The Newton Rams faced a much-improved Luella team Tuesday looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Alcovy over the weekend and did just that with a 58-47 win.
The Lions entered the matchup with a 13-4 record and as the No. 8 team in Class AAAAA according to the GACA Coaches' Poll. Both teams entered with 3-3 region records and both were coming off losses. Something had to give.
The Rams rose to the occasion and left the court with the win.
"It was a big win for us," Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. "Luella was 13-4 and came in ranked eighth in the state. We took third-ranked Westlake to the wire (last week) so we know we are as good as anybody in our region. This puts us in the top half of the region standings midway through the season. Our region has had five of eight teams ranked at some point, so being in the top half is pretty good at this point."
Senior guard Stephen Croone paced the Rams with 22 points while Rashard Cabane attacked the basket all night and ended up with 14 points to go along with six rebounds.
Although he had a somewhat quiet night offensively, senior Justin Thompson played relentless defense and held Luella's leading scorer scoreless.
Newton got off to a slow start and trailed by as many as five in the first quarter before getting within three at 14-11 as the quarter ended.
The Rams finally nudged ahead in the second quarter and went to halftime leading 21-20. The second half would belong to Newton.
"We got after it in the second half and pulled away slowly but surely," added Rasmussen, "Our defense was very good and our offense finally got cranked up in the second half."
It was in the second half that Croone decided to take charge. He scored 15 points in the half including nine in the fourth quarter. Croone also dished out three assists while also grabbing three boards on the night.
Early in the fourth the Rams held on to a precarious one-point lead when Jalen Glover hit a three to make it 44-40. Glover's three padded Newton's lead that they would not relinquish.
Rebounds and free throws turned out to be the difference in the game. The Rams outrebounded the Lions 37-20 margin. Newton also shot 17 more free throws.
Center Shane Henry pulled down 10 boards and also had a dunk off an alley-oop from Croone to get the crowd going at the start of the second half.
Senior Justin Gates nearly recorded a double-double off the bench. He scored nine points and grabbed eight boards.
"Stephen had a strong second half offensively. Rashard and Justin (Gates) also played particularly well," Rasmussen said. "Gates was a spark plug for us off the bench and we need more of that from our reserves."
Things don't get any easier for the Rams as they will host sixth-ranked ranked ML King tonight.
"This win gives us momentum going into Friday night," Rasmussen said. "Every game in the region is a war from here on out."
The win bumped Newton's record to 11-5, 4-3 on the season.