Newton vs. Grayson, part two was supposed to be a matchup of the top two squads in Region 8-AAAAAAA.
A clash of region strength-on-strength, if you will. After all, the Grayson Rams can be credited with playing the top-ranked and nationally acclaimed Newton Rams closer than anyone else this season. Their first meeting was a six point Newton win, thanks to a Grayson three-pointer at the fourth quarter buzzer.
But those who witnessed Tuesday night’s 91-65 Newton romp, didn’t see a clash of titans as much as they saw a confirmation of greatness.
Newton not only dominated Grayson, but put on a spectacular show of comprehensive basketball excellence that, at times, it was mind boggling to watch.
“I thought we were in tune with the game plan and executed it really well,” Rasmussen said. “Defensively especially, we were concentrating on some things they do really well, and locking in on that. So executing the game plan defensively, I think that was one of our better performances of the year. And, you know, we shot the ball well. J.D. (Notae) really shot it well from the perimeter. Ashton was hurting them inside, and so was Isaiah, and then Darvin played really well.”
J.D. Notae paced Newton with a game-high 27 points Tuesday, while Hagans tallied 15 points to go along with 11 assists and four rebounds. Miller scored 17, including several highlight reel style dunks, while also grabbing eight rebounds.
Notae nailed six three-pointers, while having the kind of game Rasmussen knows his 6-foot-3, Jacksonville signed senior can consistently have.
“J.D. is such a scorer in so many ways,” Rasmussen said. “He’s vertical. He’s a slasher, but he also had six threes in the first half in a game against McEachern. Henry County, you know, he can do it.”
It was an all-around performance, punctuated by a pair of SportsCenter worthy plays in the second half, involving Miller and Hagans.
The first came after Hagans grabbed a rebound, crossed over a Grayson defender causing him to fall to the ground, and then heaved an alley-oop pass to Miller, who leaped from the baseline, caught the pass and finished with a reverse flush.
A few possessions later, Miller took a steal on fast break and, with a Grayson defender closely in tow, tossed the ball off the backboard, caught it and threw down a two-handed slam.
Both plays put the crowd on its feet, but it was also a reflection of just how devastatingly good this Rams squad can be when it’s clicking on all cylinders.
And while some may be tempted to call it “showboating,” Rasmussen says that allowing his team creative license to make consistently make “wow” plays does much more than excite the fans.
“It’s just being a player’s coach,” he said with a slight chuckle. “It’s fun. It hurts the other team’s morale, and that may be the most important thing. Plus it’s exciting. It makes you turn up the heat even more on defense. It makes you put your hands in the passing lanes.”
With the win, Newton improved to 22-0 on the season and 7-0 in region play. It’s the best start to a season since the 1965 Newton team that won 35 straight games in a season, before losing in the state semifinals.
Now with three games left in the regular season — Friday at Rockdale, followed by home games with Shiloh and Archer on Jan. 31 and Feb. 3 respectively — it’s looking likely that Newton can go into region tournaments unscathed. The Rams’ final three opponents have a combined record of 24-39.
But Rasmussen is still preaching focus, and hoping that his players don’t forget what has given them the chance to make history.
“Now we’ve got an important rivalry game on Friday, and I told them we don’t need to do anything to jeopardize anything and get into emotions or technicals or anything like that,” Rasmussen said. “We’ve got two important days of practice coming up.”