Heading into its most difficult stretch of the season, Newton has now won four straight after defeating Cedar Shoals 57-45 Saturday.
The victory was big not only in terms of momentum but also in the confidence it takes to beat an opponent the Rams have seen two times this season. The first meeting between the two teams came down to the wire, with the host Jaguars winning in overtime 47-46 on Dec. 8, but Saturday was a different story from the outset.
"We wanted to certainly play well. The last time we played Cedar, we had a nine point lead with four minutes to go and it went into overtime before they hit a buzzer-beating 3 from 15 feet past the line to beat us," Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. "We really wanted to erase that memory. The guys seemed to be focused."
Saturday, the Rams took a 17-2 lead in the first quarter, holding Cedar Shoals without a field goal (the points came by free throws) in the first eight minutes. Newton held Cedar Shoals’ star player Dontai Robinson to just two free throws in the first half and two more points in the third quarter thanks to the defense of Taylor Hawkins. After Hawkins’ playing time was limited in the fourth quarter, Robinson scored 14 of his 18 points, but the damage was already done.
"Taylor’s defense shuts down most people who he’s on," Rasmussen said.
Hawkins also excelled on offense, scoring a career-high 15 points to go with his three rebounds and three steals.
"He was basically our MVP of the game," Rasmussen said. "He did it on both ends of the floor."
Jalen Glover added 11 points, including making 4 of 4 free throws, Kishon Rogers finished with 10 points, including two big first-half 3-pointers and Rashard Cabane had 13 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals, two blocks and took a charge. Newton was in fourth place in Region 2-AAAAAA before Tuesday night’s game at Luella with the region tournament beginning in just two weeks, with only the top seed receiving a first-round bye.
Luella is currently the region’s top seed with a 6-2 record, followed by Rockdale and Morrow, which play Newton Friday and Feb. 5, respectively.
"These next four will be extremely difficult," Rasmussen said. "We’re excited about our chances. Basically, everybody is trying to get ready for the tournament, where only one team will have a guaranteed bye."