An explosive second half helped the visiting Hillgrove Hawks knock off host Newton 56-44 Friday night in the opening round of the Class AAAAAA state tournament.
Last year’s state runners-up, which returned four starters this season, scored 38 points in the second half while limiting the Rams to just 19 combined points in the third and fourth quarters.
Keith Ray led a balanced Hillgrove scoring effort with 16 points, while Newton’s Jalen Glover and Taylor Hawkins were the Rams’ lone players in double figures, with 15 and 11points, respectively.
Nine of Glover’s points came in a first half that saw Newton carry a 25-18 advantage into halftime, but the Hawks’ defense turned up the heat in the third and fourth quarters, using a 23-2 scoring run to end the Rams’ hopes of advancing to the second round for the first time since 2011.
“Hillgrove made some good adjustment defensively after halftime and we struggled,” Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. “We also had some late turnovers that hurt us before the half that really gave them momentum.”
Newton led 25-18 at halftime and struck first blood in the third on a Hawkins’ layup. Hillgrove’s B.J. Brown hit back-to-back jumpers to bring the Hawks with in five, but Glover and Darvin Jones knocked down consecutive 3-pointers that pushed Newton’s lead to eight with just under four minutes gone in the quarter.
D.J. Hill converted a layup off the glass, pushing Newton’s lead to double digits, but Hill’s basket was the last for the Rams in the quarter. Hillgrove ended the third on a 10-0 run, including a pair of baskets from Ray. Brown went to the line after being fouled on a 3-point attempt and knocked down two of his three free throws, and two more points at the line for the Hawks erased Newton’s lead, sending both teams into the fourth tied at 35.
With 6:01 left in the game, Hill ended Newton’s scoring drought with a successful baseline floater, but Hillgrove’s offense continue to steamroll the Rams, extending their run to 23-2. Ray hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Kyle Castlin scored twice during the run, giving the Hawks a 48-37 advantage with 3:42 left in the game.
Hawkins knocked down a jumper in the paint and Jones added two points at the free-throw line, cutting Hillgrove’s lead to seven, but Castlin added an emphatic alley-oop dunk from Jourdan Julian, and Antonio Wade converted another slam with 15 seconds to go, sealing the 12-point win.
Castlin finished with eight points in the fourth, denying the Rams their 22nd win of the season.
Hillgrove led 13-7 after the first eight minutes of action, but Newton outscored the Hawks 18-5 in the second quarter.
Newton started the second on a 15-2 run, aided by a pair of Hawkins’ layups and a Hill steal and layup. Julian hit Hillgrove’s lone shot from the floor in the period with 1:18 left in the quarter, but Glover connected with a pair of 3-pointer in the final two minutes of the first half, giving Newton a 25-18 lead at the break.
Castlin joined Ray in double figures with 14 points, while Wade and Brown finished with 11 each.
Keion Simms finished as Newton’s leading rebounder with eight boards, while Hill finished with seven points and five assists.
Newton ended the season 21-8 overall and 8-4 in Region 2-AAAAAA.
“Overall, we had a great season,” Rasmussen said. “We got 21 wins, performed well in the region tournament and fought tonight. We just happened to get a bad draw and had to face a great team in the opening round. It was tough luck for us, but we battled and stayed in it and had our chances.”