It’s an arguable matter of discussion to say that Newton sophomore Colby Rogers hit the game’s biggest shots when he sunk four straight free throws in the waning moments of an 89-83 triple OT win over defending state champ Westlake.
What probably isn’t arguable, though, is the fact that Rogers had the quote of the night to summarize Newton’s triumph.
“They say that the sweetest revenge is success,” Rogers said. “So we had success tonight. We beat them and got them off our back. Now it’s on to the next game.”
Of course, the revenge Rogers speaks of stems from the fact that this very Westlake team is the one which ousted Newton from the state tournament last season when the Rams were just a few minutes away from earning a chance to play Pebblebrook in the Class AAAAAA championship game.
And you’d best believe that last year wasn’t far from the players’ minds, even as they battled through fatigue to keep their focus.
“This game was real big,” said J.D. Notae, who had a team-high 24 points in the win. “Like every day when we knew we had to play them, we’ve been thinking about it. It was revenge from last year. We were supposed to beat them last year, so we knew we had to come even harder this time. But it was a real dog fight, though.”
Newton coach Rick Rasmussen knew it would be. And he kept telling his players that, even when, at one point the Rams went up by 19 points before halftime. Even after taking a 14 point lead into the locker room.
“It was a war,” Rasmussen said. “I knew that it would be. I told them at half time they weren’t going to go away. We had to keep telling them to keep their heads up when we should’ve won the game in three different locations. We should’ve won in regulation, the first and second overtimes. I thought we were the better team, but I knew as defending state champs, Westlake wouldn’t go lightly.”
Senior Darvin Jones, who had 20 points in the game, including Newton’s first eight, has been saying since the preseason that last year’s 64-59 Final Four loss to Westlake kept playing in his mind. But after Thursday night’s win, Jones said he doesn’t have to think about it anymore.
“Man, words can’t even explain it right now,” Jones said in the midst of an on-court celebration after the game. “I’m just glad we got the W. We got them off our backs. We knew that to make it to the state (championship game), we’d go through a lot of adversity. But we also knew we had to dig down deep and get it.”
Senior center Josh Tukes, who had several blocked shots and key rebounds while battling down low against Westlake’s bigs — including 6-foot-8 Auburn pledge, Chuma Okeke — said that the Westlake win was just as much a confidence builder as it was a revenge grabber.
“It felt like we took a big step in the direction we want to go,” Tukes said. “We feel like we could play with anybody if we beat them. I don’t see no one who can stop us now. It was a huge relief to get over them tonight.”
Now, Tift County awaits. The Blue Devils defeated Berkmar 72-55 Thursday night to advance to meet Newton Wednesday at 7 p.m. And although the Westlake win touched off a championship-like celebration, the Rams know that that game was just one big piece to their unfinished state championship puzzle.
“The good news is we’ve got until Wednesday to calm down and get ready for Tift,” Rasmussen said. “They’ll pose a great challenge.”
It’ll be a challenge Jones says his team will be up for.
“We’re keeping our eyes on the prize,” Jones said. “We’ll celebrate tonight, but as soon as we get back on the court for practice (Friday), we’re getting ready for our next opponent. We’re not done yet. We’re still looking for that state championship.”