NORCROSS, Ga. — A Class AAAAAAA basketball game in Georgia doesn’t get much tighter than the matchup between Newton and Norcross Wednesday night.
In front of a standing room only crowd in “The House of Blue,” the Rams suffered a 58-56, season-ending loss in the Elite Eight.
Wednesday’s loss came in heartbreaking fashion.
As the closing seconds of the overtime period were ticking away, Norcross had possession tied 56-56. Bilah Abdur-Rahman drove to the basket and missed the fastbreak layup. But, with just milliseconds left, Lamaryion Jordan had a quick putback as time expired to send Norcross’ home crowd into a frenzy.
Norcross’ student section stormed the court to climax the intense celebration.
Meanwhile, the Rams walked off the court devastated by what had just occurred before their eyes. The Newton faithful who made the hour-long trip was stunned, and it was an emotional scene post game.
Head coach Charlemagne Gibbons was visibly emotional, too, following the game.
“[All losses] are tough but, when it ends your season, it’s really tough,” Gibbons said.
Newton seemed to have complete control of the game earlier in overtime.
Going into the extra four-minute quarter tied 50-50, Jakai Newton scored a layup to put his team ahead. Then, Whitlock connected on a jumper followed by a Stephon Castle layup.
After Norcross converted a free throw, the Rams led 56-51 with 1:09 remaining in the game, which tied for the largest lead by any team.
But the Blue Devils had one more run to save their season. First, they made a layup to cut the deficit to three. Shortly after, Castle turned the ball over after what seemed like miscommunication between he and Jabez Jenkins on a pass.
Norcross took advantage to tie things back up with a three-pointer.
Gibbons pointed to what he believed was the difference in Wednesday’s outcome.
“We wanted it,” Gibbons said. “We just didn’t play smart down the stretch of the game. [The players] wanted it, they showed they wanted it, but we weren’t smart enough to finish the game.”
Norcross’ overtime run to come back was eerily familiar. Maybe it was because of how Newton sent the game into overtime in the first place.
Both teams traded the lead for the final 2:26 of regulation. However, the Blue Devils extended their lead 50-47 with 13.5 seconds remaining.
Castle advanced the ball up the court and found a non-hesitant Whitlock ready to shoot the three-pointer. Whitlock connected to tie the score 50-50 and give Newton a chance in overtime.
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Rams’ fans in attendance celebrated so loudly that it felt like a home game at 1 Ram Way in Covington.
Gibbons expressed his gratitude for the fans’ support, not only Wednesday night, but all season long.
“The passionate fan base of the Newton and Rams faithful is second-to-none,” Gibbons said. “I would take this fan base over any other fan base. I think they showed it by their action and their noise and their spirit. I would like to thank them and the community for all the support they’ve given these guys over the time I’ve been here. It’s just been a special thing.”
Only five Rams scored Wednesday night.
McDonald’s All-American and UConn commit Castle led with 16 points along with Whitlock’s 13. Four-star Indiana signee Newton had nine as well as Tim Prather and Jabez Jenkins who each scored nine points, too.
Castle, Whitlock and Newton in addition to Sean Thompkins, David Freeman and Ashton Pennamon will graduate from the program with an appearance in a Sweet Sixteen and Final Four plus two Elite Eights on their high school resumes.
Gibbons stressed the impact the class of 2023 has had on the Rams’ basketball program.
“They’ve helped take Newton basketball to a really good state program and taken it to a national level,” Gibbons said. “We’re recognized throughout the country. I think these guys have made Newton a place where players want to play. Their legacy will be the elevation of Newton basketball and the expectation is to keep it there.”
This is the second straight year the Rams’ season ended in a loss to Norcross. Newton finished at 19-11 overall and ended as Region 4-AAAAAAA runners up, too.
Gibbons shared his thoughts on how this season played out for his team.
“My standard for a successful season is winning a state championship,” Gibbons said. “Did we have some highlights through the course of the season? Absolutely. Did we do some really good things? Absolutely. I’m proud of those guys. But the ultimate goal is to be the only team that’s not in that locker room crying when the game is over and that’s how this season ended.”