When the Newton boys basketball team takes the court Monday against Spartanburg Day and Zion Williamson, they’ll be doing so with a little national swagger in their step.
The Rams, ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAAA and ranked No. 1 in Georgia, regardless of classification, according to Maxpreps.com have checked in this past week at No. 21 in the USA Today top 25 high school basketball poll.
Newton (17-0, 4-0 in Region 8-AAAAAAA) are coming fresh off a string of three victories this past week, including a 77-50 region win at Archer Friday night and a hard fought, 78-70 win over Heritage of Newnan. In the Archer game, Isaiah Miller led the top-ranked Rams with 20 points, while J.D. Notae and Ashton Hagans chipped in with 17 and 16 points apiece. Hagans also notched eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals.
Hagans doubled up that performance, literally, with a 16-point, 14-assist double-double at Heritage on Saturday, while Notae had 22 and Miller added 20.
Rams coach Rick Rasmussen called the Archer victory “another solid road win” for his team which is in the throes of a stretch of six games in eight days. But he said he was particularly impressed with how the Heritage squad played Saturday and how his bunch responded to the adversity.
“The Heritage school played extremely well Saturday night, and gave us their very best shot,” Rasmussen said. “They were on fire for most of the game. But we know we’re going to get our opponent’s best shot every night. We had to dig down deep on defense and get stops in fourth quarter. I’m very proud of how we finished the game on a night when the other team was making every (shot).”
Rasmussen praised Hagans for playing “like a man possessed” down the stretch against Heritage. He also lauded sophomore Armani Harris who had big minutes off the bench in place of Josh Tukes who missed most of the second half due to lightheadedness.
Now the Rams will put their brand new national ranking on the line Monday when they play Williamson and Spartanburg Day at 2 p.m. in the Blue Collar MLK Classic at Peachtree Ridge High School.
Newton defeated Spartanburg Day 73-64 on Dec. 30 in the championship game of the Farm Bureau Classic in Spartanburg, SC, and Rasmussen believes the atmosphere for the rematch should make for a fun game.
And while Rasmussen appreciates the national love, he said it can’t get in the way of Newton’s top season goal.
“It’s pretty cool to be ranked in the country, but it doesn’t mean anything unless you’re still there at the end of the year,” Rasmussen said.
Still, Monday’s game – and the rest of the week’s matchups for that matter – signals another high level test for Newton.
“We are looking forward to a rematch with Spartanburg Day, and also the Rockdale rivalry game on Tuesday,” he said. “But Monday will be exciting. Isaiah (Miller) picked up an offer from Miami of Ohio (Thursday), and a bunch of colleges will be at the game on Monday. But beyond that, it’s a great way for us to remember and honor Martin Luther King Jr., who paved the way for equality in our country.”
Newton’s Tuesday night game against Rockdale is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tip at Newton High School. The Rams will also host a region game Friday night against South Gwinnett and then travel to play Southwest Atlanta Christian on Saturday.
Lady Rams’ weekend highlighted by win over No. 5 Archer
Newton Lady Rams coach Tiffani Johnson came out of last Wednesday’s romp over rival Eastside with a bit of a game face on. It was because she was already looking ahead to what she called “our biggest region game to date” against No. 5 Archer.
Friday night, in the battle for the top spot in Region 8-AAAAAAA, it was the sixth-ranked Lady Rams who came away victorious after notching a 56-53 win on the road against Archer to stay perfect in region play, while cementing the top spot in region standings.
Junior Lexii Chatman paced the Rams against a big, long Archer squad with 24 points as Newton takes a firm one game lead over the region, having beaten both Archer and South Gwinnett once out of two games this season.
The Lady Rams followed up their Friday night performance by dominating Heritage of Newnan 63-40. The win raised their record to 14-2 overall.
Newton will next face Fayette County Monday in the MLK Holiday Classic at Campbell High, then will come home to host rival Rockdale on Tuesday, with a home rematch Friday with South Gwinnett. Newton will host Archer again for the regular season finale on Feb. 3.