MARIETTA, Ga. — On a night that was supposed to be all about the stars between Wheeler and Newton, it was the supporting cast that stole the show. Wheeler's role players stepped up to help the Wildcats down the Rams 79-60.
Supporting cast discrepancy
Outside of 5-star Stephon Castle and 4-star Jakai Newton, the Rams only received 19 points from three other players. The six other players who touched the floor went scoreless.
On the other hand, Wheeler had six other players score 34 combined points along with 5-star Isaiah Collier and 4-star Arrinten Page’s performances.
The Wildcats’ 15-point difference among the role players ended up being nearly 80% of the final margin of victory.
Head coach Charlemagne Gibbons placed just as much onus on his 5 and 4-star recruits afterward to help get the role players in rhythm.
“All of our top guys have to help our role players play better,” Gibbons said. “I think their top guys helped their role players play better tonight. Being a 5-star is also about helping other guys be better on your team.
Stretching the lead
The Wildcats and Rams traded baskets for the first few minutes of the third quarter. But, Wheeler seemingly took the quarter over.
Collier put together a string of buckets to increase his team's lead 59-43.
The Rams kept battling.
Castle seemed destined to will his team to victory. He scored nine of his final 22 points in the fourth quarter along with a few rebounds. The 5-star's effort wasn't enough to overcome the Wildcats.
Turnovers, missed shots and being one step behind on defense ultimately decided the Rams' fate.
Wheeler continued to pour on down the stretch with three-pointers and dunks that continued to get fans on their feet.
Stars vs. Stars
With that said, neither star studded duo played particularly bad.
Look at fellow McDonald’s All-American players Castle and Collier — Castle led the Rams with 22 points and five rebounds while Collier finished with a game-high 27 points and seven assists.
Then there’s Newton and Page. In just his second game back — and still under a 12-minute restriction — Newton came off the bench to score 19 points. Page recorded 17 from the center position.
Both individuals were McDonald’s All-American nominees, too.
Collier and Page will continue being teammates as they have both signed national letters of intent to USC. Castle is currently committed to UConn and Newton signed in November to play for Indiana.
High pressure moments
All throughout the first 16 minutes of action, there were some intense moments.
For instance, at the 3:30 mark, Castle and another Wheeler player got tangled up following a play. Both players shared some words, there was a push then the referee rushed in to issue a technical foul to each player.
The situation occurred right in front of Wheeler's rowdy student section, which seemed to be on top of the Rams in the first half.
It wasn't necessarily a true home-court advantage for the Wildcats. Newton brought a good amount of fans with them on the 50-plus mile trip.
Principal Dr. Shannon Buff, Athletic Director Vincent Byams and other school officials were present. Even Newton County Schools' superintendent Samantha Fuhrey and board chair Shakila Henderson-Baker were cheering on the Rams.
Their cheers, however, were drowned out by the numerous students the school brought.
State playoff preview?
Monday's game was part of ESPN's High School Showcase and was broadcasted on ESPNU.
Though both teams are still a couple of weeks away from playoff action, Monday's contest had a postseason-like atmosphere.
In fact, these same two teams may meet up in the Class AAAAAAA playoffs.
If the playoffs were to start today and both teams kept winning, Newton (first place in Region 4-AAAAAAA) and Wheeler (first place in Region 5-AAAAAAA) would match up in the Final Four at Georgia State University.
But for now, the Rams (15-8 overall) are focused on finishing their regular season against Parkview (Tuesday) and at Grayson (Friday).
“We didn’t talk about anything tonight,” Gibbons said. “We’re going to be there tomorrow and try to get ready for the next game. That’s it.”