In typical head coach fashion, Tiffani Johnson could still pick out some of the warts in the midst of an impressive performance.
But in the Newton Lady Rams’ 74-34 victory over Heritage-Newnan, there was a lot to like, especially in the fact that lots of reserves got valuable playing time.
“It was good,” Johnson said. “I wish the first half could have gone a little bit better. The points didn’t reflect the mistakes we were making out there. But in the second half with some pressure and it got our juices flowing, and we had the chance to end the game the way we wanted. Whenever you can clear the bench like that it’s great. It’s good for morale, keeps everybody’s spirits high.”
Lexii Chatman had 15 points while Janelle Cook chipped in with 13 to lead the No. 5 Lady Rams until Johnson was able to check the starters out midway through the third quarter.
Heritage would actually jump out of the gates first, taking a quick 4-2 lead on Newton, thanks to a pair of transition layups made by Emily Cushing when Newton struggled to get back on defense. But then the defense clamped down and held the Lady Hawks scoreless for the next four minutes, which gave Newton a chance to build a 25-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Newton took the blow out to another level when Asia Hyman and Chatman knocked down bookend three-pointers. Hyman’s came at the buzzer of the first quarter, and Chatman’s happened on the Rams’ first possession of the second quarter.
Newton forced Heritage into 10 first quarter turnovers, and close to 30 for the game as they continued to press the issue with a full court trap which helped them to a 43-20 halftime lead.
The defense kept coming early in third where, starting at the 7:47 mark, Cook and Takiya Cotton combined to score eight straight points in a 12 second stint, thanks to fierce defensive pressure on three straight Lady Hawks’ attempts to inbound the ball.
That stint perhaps provided the greatest glimpse at what Johnson believes this year’s squad could become as the season progresses.
“I definitely think come January everything will start to click, and everything we’ve put in will start to come to form and we’ll look more organized out on the floor,” she said. “Like I said before, we’ve got nine new players doing new things so it’s taking some time for everything to click. But one thing, our effort is there. I’m loving the chemistry on the team, their spirits are high and it makes it a whole lot easier to coach.”
Shortly after, Johnson took the opportunity to rest her starters, and with the win, the Lady Rams stayed perfect on their way to their Friday showdown with county-rival Eastside.
The Lady Eagles have struggled offensively to an 0-4 start, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get Johnson’s full attention.
“We want momentum heading into the region,” she said. “Ending with Eastside before going into region will be a good emotional game to test them. Speaking of rivalries, they can go either way. So it’ll be a good chance for us to see if we’re ready to go from the first quarter, and test that out.”
Newton boys romp Heritage-Newnan
The second ranked Newton Rams raced out to an early 20 point lead, called off the dogs and coasted to an 81-58 win against an overmatched Heritage-Newnan squad in a non-region matchup Tuesday night.
Senior guard Isaiah Miller had a game-high 20 points for the Rams, and Ashton Hagans and Darvin Jones each chipped in with 14 points as Newton (5-0) jumped out to a 29-9 lead over the Hawks in the first quarter. It wasn’t long after that that coach Rick Rasmussen decided to take advantage of the inevitable blowout to get his reserves some valuable court time.
“I thought our starters played well tonight in the limited action that they got,” Rasmussen said. “We played reserves a large portion of the game, even some in the first quarter. I was happy they got to play, but I thought some of them didn’t play as well as they are capable of playing.”
Now Rasmussen and company can focus on their last non-region challenge before opening Region 8-AAAAAAA against South Gwinnett next week.
Newton will travel to play Eastside (3-0) Friday night at 8:30 p.m. in the first of two games in what is typically a competitive and emotionally charged county rivalry. Rasmussen expects this Friday’s game to be no different.
“We are excited to have a chance to keep our momentum going in a fun rivalry game Friday night,” Rasmussen said.