It was a performance to forget Saturday afternoon for the Newton High boys varsity basketball team, as the Rams uncharacteristically struggled against visiting Luella in a 31-17 Senior Night loss.
The loss dropped the Rams to 8-4 overall in Region 2-AAAAAA, clinching the No. 3 seed for Newton heading into next week’s region tournament. The Lions finished with an 11-1 overall record in region play and face the region’s best next week as the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.
Newton shot 15 percent from the field, including 11 percent in the first half, and was shutout in a first quarter that saw the Lions march out to a 10-0 lead.
Despite turning Luella over 18 times and holding the Lions to 10 or fewer points in each quarter, Newton’s usually reliable offense reached anemic levels, scoring just twice from the floor in the opening 16 minutes against Luella’s lengthy front line.
“We didn’t execute on offense and let them get an early run that gave them momentum,” Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. “We got intimidated by their size inside and instead of shooting the ball with confidence we rushed it and just started chucking it. We abandoned our offensive scheme and tried to freelance and that’s not going to cut it.”
Newton was held scoreless in the first quarter, a first under Rasmussen, while Luella scored 10 points in the opening period.
Luella 7-footer Doral Moore scored six points in the first quarter, twice on dunks that brought the Luella bench to its feet.
Jalen Glover scored six of the Rams’ seven points in the second quarter, scoring Newton’s first basket with 6:32 to go. Newton held Luella to just five points in the period, and a second Glover 3-pointer and a Darvin Jones’ free throw brought the Rams within eight of the Lions at halftime, 15-7.
“Defensively, I thought we were pretty good,” Rasmussen said. “But, if you don’t make some shots, you’re not going to be successful.”
Keion Sims scored the Rams’ first basket in the paint a minute into the third quarter, but Newton scored just four points in the period. Luella outscored Newton 7-4 in the third, with the Rams’ second basket coming on a Taylor Hawkins’ runner with 3:08 left in the period.
Luella left the door open for the Rams in fourth quarter, shooting just 4-of-11 at the charity stripe. Despite the Lions' struggles from the free-throw line, however, Luella still managed to score nine in the period, with four coming from Andre Blanton.
Blanton drained a 3-pointer on the Lions’ first possession of the fourth, but Hawkins and Donovan Grubb scored on consecutive Newton possessions, trimming Luella’s lead to 27-15.
D.J. Hill scored the Rams final basket with 3:49 left in the contest on a driving layup. Luella held Newton scoreless from that point on, clinching the 14-point victory.
Glover finished as the Rams’ leading scorer with six points, despite being held scoreless in the second half. Hawkins added four points in the loss.
Moore was the only player to score in double figures with 10 points for the Lions.
Newton may have a chance to meet the Lions next week if both squads can reach the region championship game.
“”I think if we’re facing them again next week, it’s a good problem to have,” Rasmussen said. “It means we’re doing pretty well in the tournament. But, we have to take it one game at a time. We’re going to try to regroup and get on the same page and see if we can execute Tuesday night.”
Weather permitting, Newton will face rival Alcovy in the opening round of the region tournament Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. at Newton High.