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Newton, Salem set for early season battle
The Newton Rams and Salem Seminoles square off Friday night in a cross-county rivalry battle. - photo by Anthony Banks

The Newton Rams return to action tonight, welcoming cross-county rival Salem to their home gym in a non-region match up.

The Rams enter tonight’s contest coming off a 68-28 win over rival Alcovy.

Newton head coach Rick Rasmussen said that his team felt great after the season-opening victory, and they expect another big crowd tonight with the Seminoles coming in.

“We felt good about the win and we felt excited,” Rasmussen said. “It was a historic win for us in the new gym and it was good to get a solid win over a region opponent. It was only the first game, but it was a special night with a great crowd.”

Rasmussen said that Salem’s early season contests, an exhibition win over Redan and a double-overtime victory over Meadowcreek, have prepared them well.

“I haven’t gotten a chance to see them play yet, but I saw that they have played two good teams already,” Rasmussen said. “The overtime win over Meadowcreek is a good win. Meadowcreek was a Sweet 16 team last year and they brought a lot back. We’re going to have to play well to be successful against Salem.”

Rasmussen said that against the Tigers, the Rams executed well from the guard position, and that his team is playing unselfishly, which is a positive early in the season.

“We’ve gotten good guard play so far,” Rasmussen said. “In particular, we’re making the extra pass. When other teams have tried to take something away from us offensively, we’ve adjusted well and we’ve made sound decisions. They have been unselfish, they’re playing well together and I really like our team’s chemistry at this point in the season.”

Rasmussen said if the Rams needed a tune-up in one area, it was their defense.

“I thought we reached and gambled a little in transition,” he said. “We were lazy on defense at times.”

Newton also struggled at the free-throw line in the first half, shooting just 4-for-11 in the opening half.

“I think we had some first-game jitters,” Rasmussen said.

With two rivalry games in a week, the Rams will be battle tested heading out of their first week.

“They’re two good tests early on and we’re hoping to have another big crowd,” Rasmussen said. “It’s a great rivalry between the two schools. Salem brings a lot of excitement, and I know they’re proud of how their program has developed over the last few years. We have a lot of kids who live right on the boundary line between the two school districts and everyone wants bragging rights. We respect them and they’re going to be a formidable opponent.”

Game time is set for 8:30 p.m.

Full schedule
Before the Rams take on the Seminoles, the Newton girls varsity basketball team will take on the Lady Seminoles in their third game in four days.

The Lady Rams have had a full schedule since beginning play Tuesday, but Newton coach Tiffani Johnson said that playing so many early games has helped her identify positives and negatives of the Lady Rams' game.

"Against Norcross, I did see some good things, even though we lost," Johnson said. "We put a lot of pressure on them early and had some success, but we have to stay out of foul trouble.

"I did, however, like that we played as a team and we played hard," she said. "Our intensity and focus were there. We played great defense and were talking all over the court. I saw us doing a lot of the little things really well, and we're only going to continue to get better."

Johnson said she saw a lot of the same intangibles with the Lady Seminoles.

"I really like how they play for one another," she said. "They are a team, not just basketball players. They're going to play hard, and we're going to have to play well together against them."

Johnson's wings shined in the season-opening 57-34 victory over Alcovy, getting 15 points from Deandra Reed and 14 from Sonia Forney.

Salem coach Rochone Dilligard knows that she will have her hands full with the Lady Rams, but as long as the Lady Seminoles focus on what they do, Dilligard said it should be a great battle.

"Our kids have just got to continue to play Salem basketball," Dilligard said. "When you try to focus on other things, your focus can get lost on your ultimate goal.

"We want to continue to get better, and by focusing on what we do well or what we need to improve, we can do that," she said. "We're going to make ourselves better. It's a process, but they've shown that they want to go through that process and get better."

Salem fell in its opening game of the Lady Blue Tip-Off Classic to Fayette County after the Lady Tigers downed the Lady Seminoles 49-47 on a Kayla Smith 3-pointer as time expired. Dilligard said she was proud of how her team played as it continues to add new elements on offense.

"We kept our composure the entire game," she said. "We had some players out of position and other players having to take on a bigger role, but despite all of that, they stayed in the game and fought. Our newer players are learning different roles and it's encouraging."

The Lady Seminoles have added some new wrinkles to their offense, and Dilligard said it's going to take some time before their offense reaches the same level as the defense.

"We've got a lot of returners, but they have to learn a lot of new stuff," Dilligard said. Especially in our offense, there is a lot of stuff they haven't seen. They've having to work very hard to get used to it and they have to be patient.

"Our defense is certainly ahead of our offense right now, but we can guard people and keep ourselves in the game," she said. "We have to take it a game at a time and get our offense flowing. That may not happen in November, but it's going to get better day by day, game by game."

Game time is set for 7 p.m.

Both teams will return to action, after tonight's contest, on Saturday in their second games of the Lady Blue Tip-Off Classic.