Newton (12-4, 4-0 Region 2-AAAAAA) came into Friday’s battle with Rockdale (6-8, 1-3 Region 2-AAAAAA) looking down at the Lady Bulldogs from high atop the Region 2-AAAAAA standings. Rockdale, despite it’s sub-.500 region record, gave Newton everything it could handle. The Lady Rams answered with a resolve they’ve laid claim to all season.
Watching Newton’s group of girls play is fun. They play an exciting brand of basketball with their excellent ball-handling and one-on-one shot making ability, especially from downtown, but that wasn’t the case against the Lady Bulldogs. Newton, usually a deadly three-point shooting team courtesy of the splash girls Imani Broadnax and Alexcia Chatman, just wasn’t knocking down the pretty jumpers they usually make from behind the arc.
Teams that live and die by the jumper, as fun as it may be, usually die by the jumper when the game is on the line more often than not. Despite not hitting the three at their usual rate, the Lady Rams were able to scrape out a quality win against a region opponent.
The shots were there. Head coach Tiffani Johnson got her shooters in position to hit from deep with little defensive pressure. The shots just weren’t falling, but sometimes you have those nights and Friday was just one of those nights.
It was the team’s willingness to attack the basket and get to the line that kept them ahead of Rockdale. There were a lot of foul calls on both sides, but Newton maintained its lead by relentlessly attacking the basket when the shots weren’t falling. And it was Newton’s defense that kept Rockdale looking like Tarzan in modern day New York City. The Lady Rams swarmed to the opposition and forced turnovers and bad shots all night.
With the win, Newton also learned that it can still play at a high level without one of the team’s starters in Jurnee Smith, who is out with an injury. Nidajzha Tennyson and Ny’tauja Mckinnon stepped up in place of Smith. Tennyson and Mckinnon started and both played their respective roles well.
Tennyson played terrific on-ball defense and while she’s not quite the ball-handler that Smith is, her effort on defense had a significant impact on the game. Tennyson forced turnovers and played with an edge. She didn’t back down when she was forced to guard Sydney Fields, the Lady Bulldogs best player. Tennyson even forced Fields into a turnover, among the many bad possessions she had a hand in creating against Rockdale.
Mckinnon’s impact came in rebound. She did well on both ends, but especially well in offensive rebounding. Mckinnon’s offensive rebounding earned Newton more than a handful of extra possessions, the key offensive rebound being the one that got Newton the ball back, up by one with two seconds left. rockdale had a small height advantage down low, but that didn’t stop Mckinnon who secures every rebound with a humble smile before passing it back out to the guards that run the show.
Currently, Newton’s biggest threat to winning the region is cross-town rival Alcovy and the defending state champions of Tucker.
Both teams are 3-1 in the region and tied for second place. Tucker and Alcovy still have to play twice within the next month, so they’re going to have to fight one another for second and possibly first place. But Newton has beaten them both, albeit by a combined four points, on its home floor and the Lady Rams have to travel to play each team once more to cement its position and lock in a No. 1 seed for the region tournament. Since Tucker hosts the tournament, the higher the seed the better for Newton. The Lady Rams are looking like region champions...again.