It was all Newton tonight in its first round game of the GHSA Class AAAAAAA state tournament.
Isaiah Miller and Ashton Hagans finished with 24 and 22 points respectively, while every player on the team scored as Newton cruised to a 100-72 win over the Peachtree Ridge Lions Friday night.
Being the No. 1 seeded team, the pressure was on for the Rams to deliver, which they did in a big way from the opening tip, much to the pleasure of head coach Rick Rasmussen.
“I thought the feel of the returners — the ‘I’ve been here before’ feel — I thought that was there today, because they were pretty focused,” Rasmussen said. “After our pep rally, we had a nice talk and they knew that, hey, all that fanfare is great, but you’ll be on winter break if you don’t win tonight. So I asked them, ‘Do you wanna be off with no practice, or do you wanna be playing still?”
Newton answered that question early and often.
In the first quarter, both teams traded scores for the first few minutes of the period which ended with Newton holding just an 18-11 lead, despite four first quarter turnovers from Peachtree Ridge. The turnovers were part of a five minute Lions scoring drought to end the quarter.
However, Newton was not satisfied with its six point lead. They came into the second quarter and began playing in dominant fashion. Miller ultimately took over the game, scoring 11 of the team’s 28 second quarter points during which the Rams went on a 20-0 run to end the half. That run stretched a 26-21 lead to a 47-21 halftime advantage.
The second half would prove to be much like the first, with running wild in transition and also, at times, controlling the ball and the clock.
“We were able to get out and run some tonight,” Rasmussen said. “We had a bunch of layups. We didn’t have to have threes. (Isaiah) went back to dunks because he was so open. But we’re versatile. We ran when they didn’t get back, and when they did get back, I think we executed pretty well in the half court.”
The Rams began moving the ball around in the third quarter, as four different players scored six-plus points, including back-to-back threes from senior guard Darvin Jones as well as back-to-back dunks from Miller, while the team added 32 more points in the third to build a comfortable 78-52 lead.
As the starters began to rest, the scoring did not let up for a team that played as if it were still looking to prove just how dominant it can be.
Much of the fourth quarter resulted in traded scores, as Peachtree Ridge wasn’t looking to lay down despite being down by a large margin. In fact, Lions’ guard Devin Vassel stayed on fire through most of the game, scoring a game-high 36 points.
But it was the last score of the game — a buzzer beater layup from Newton reserve guard Wendel Lee — that proved to be special to Rasmussen, not only because it put Newton at the century mark for just the second time this season, but because it gave every player on the team a place in the scoring column.
“Everybody works hard in practice, but they don’t get the same recognition,” he said. “But it’s the team, the team, the team. That was our motto. It’s a big deal for our kids to say they scored in a state playoff game. Check that one off the list.”
Next on the list for Newton is a Thursday night date in the Sweet 16 round against Westlake which defeated Roswell 50-37 in its round one matchup. Westlake is the team that ended Newton's state championship hopes last year in the Class AAAAAA Final Four. But Rasmussen didn’t buy into the revenge talk.
“Either way, you’re going to play a really good team,” he said. “Roswell was the regular season No. 1 seed and Westlae was too. So you’re getting one seed and a one seed from the region tournaments in the second round. We just want to play to our ability. That’s what it’s all about. It’s tournament time. You just want to take it one game at a time and do your job. But your hard hat on and go to work.
“I felt like they did that tonight.”