Most preseason boys basketball polls had the Newton Rams boys ranked No. 5. But after a season opening week of blowout wins against ranked teams from varying classifications, expect the Rams to start inching up those rankings.
Newton’s off to a 4-0 start, thanks to impressive wins against Liberty County and Berkmar during this past weekend’s Holiday Hoopsgiving (Holy Innocents) and On the Radar Hoops (Central Gwinnett) Showcases.
The Rams defeated Liberty County — a defending state champion that won the Class AAAA title last season after halting Jonesboro’s attempt at a three-peat — 104-71 this past Friday at Hoopsgiving, and then turned around and beat Class AAAAAAA No. 8 Berkmar 84-68.
Against Class AAA No. 3 Liberty County, a team that features highly regarded Division I prospects in Davion Mitchell and Will Richardson, the Rams built a lead that was as large as 38 points before emptying the bench.
Sophomore standout Ashton Hagans scored a career high 32 points with 11 assists, and was just three rebounds shy of a triple double.
“Ashton played fast and with an extra measure of intensity we have not seen,” said Newton coach Rick Rasmussen. “I was really proud of the way our guys game to play that night, and really all weekend.”
Isaiah Miller was equally stout, pouring in 29 points and seven boards, while J.D. Notae had a double-double with 25 points and 13 rebounds.
Saturday’s game was a bit of a tougher test, and perhaps more indicative of the kind of competition the Rams will see for the duration of the season. The Berkmar tilt was Newton’s first bit of action against a school from its own classification. But despite the uptick in competition, the results in the 16-point win weren’t much different.
Hagans and Miller had another monster night with both scoring 22 points apiece, while Notae had 20. But Rasmussen said the final score wasn’t indicative of the kind of fight Berkmar put up early.
The Patriots had chopped Newton’s lead down to 59-57 at the 6:30 mark of the fourth quarter, before a 13-0 scoring blitz, complete with an assortment of dunks and transition baskets, happened over the next three minutes to salt the game away.
It was really the first time in the young season that the Rams had been tested deep into a game — something Rasmussen doesn’t necessarily consider a bad thing.
“It was a big win for us since Berkmar could match us with great guards, and they were a ranked AAAAAAA team,” he said. “That was a great character builder for us to have to overcome adversity, as the game was like a road game being in Gwinnett County against one of the best teams in Gwinnett.”
Now, after a Tuesday night home game against Heritage-Newnan, the Rams will turn their attention to one of the better teams in their own county in Eastside.
Newton will travel to face its in-county rival Friday night at 8:30 in a game that always seems to bring out the best in each team. An added plot to the storyline is the fact that Eastside is Miller’s old school, so it’ll be interesting to see how the matchups play out in that one.
Last season, Eastside and Newton split their two-game series, with Newton winning game one 90-60 on its home court, and Eastside bouncing back with a 71-64 victory on its home floor.
The Eastside contest will be the last non-region tune up for Newton before it opens Region 8-AAAAAAA play at South Gwinnett on December 9.