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Newton takes FIRST
Lady Rams in first place after beating defending state champions
Kayla Smith goes up for the reverse layup. - photo by Anthony Banks

Newton had put up a good fight. They were in it with Tucker the entire game, but the defending state champion Lady Tigers had taken a six point lead with just a couple of minutes remaining in the contest. To lose by a few points to a team that won a state championship last year would be an honorable moral victory. But the Lady Rams didn’t want a moral victory. They wanted to make a statement.

Alexcia Chatman and Jurnee Smith, both freshman, along with Imani Broadnax made crucial plays down the stretch to ensure Newton was able to make that statement. First Chatman hit a three to bring the Lady Rams within three at 55-52 with 1:53 to play. After a defensive stop, Newton had the ball and the opportunity to tie or get within one point as the clock creeped closer to the one-minute mark.

The Lady Rams missed their first shot attempt, but Chatman – who rebounded and putback the game-winner against Alcovy earlier in the week – hustled to the ball and hurled in another rebound for Newton that turned into a Broadnax three to tie the game with 1:05 left.

Newton got the ball back soon after and had the opportunity to take the lead. Head coach Tiffani Johnson called a timeout and dialed up a play to give her team a lead.

“We were just trying to spread it out and get into the lane. We had been getting into the lane the whole game just kind of going up soft and looking for the foul and not looking to make the basket so I told them, ‘Let’s keep doing what’s been working, but let’s go in and be strong and get this basket.’ We knew we had to get to the basket and see if we could make it and if not, shoot some free throws. That was the goal,” Johnson said.

Smith found herself wide open with no one in the middle to stop her and she caught a pass, went up for the layup and connected to give the Lady Rams a 57-55 lead. Tucker responded quickly and tied the game at 57-57 with 17.5 seconds left.

“We were telling Jurnee, ‘Don’t hide. We need you to show up. Don’t get caught watching the game, be a part of it.’ She did a great job of getting in when she could get in and using her strength and attacking the lane and she did a great job,” Johnson said about Smith, who finished with 12 points.

Smith just missed a teardrop at the end of the fourth, as the Lady Rams went to overtime.

There wasn’t much offense in the extra period, but Newton pulled it out as Chatman and Smith both score two points in overtime while Newton held Tucker to only two points. The Lady Rams sealed the deal on Tucker’s last possession, not allowing them to get a shot off, as Newton won 61-59.

The win makes Newton the only undefeated team in Region 2-AAAAAA play, putting them at first in the region.

“It was huge. I think being so young and experienced, when you win an overtime game alone and then winning one against an experienced team like Tucker is big,” Johnson said. “I had to tell the girls that was a big win. They were kind of still down about some mistakes made in the locker room. I was telling them, ‘Celebrate. That was a big win.’ But they want to do so well and try so hard, sometimes they get hung up on the negatives. Being able to pull that out was great. It gives us confidence in region play knowing that when we see them again we can beat ‘em.”

Newton had to finish the game without junior guard Kayana Henderson, who went down in the fourth quarter with a bruised shin. Johnson said she’ll be OK, especially since they had a long layoff coming up.

“That was big. Luckily we’re in shape, so we were able to go without the (substitution),” Johnson said. “(Kayana) comes in and provides great defense, she’s a ball handler, and she can shoot. So it definitely hurt not having her in the rotation. But I think the ladies did a good job of toughing it out today.”

Tucker had a slight height advantage against Newton, but Johnson and the Lady Rams were able to counter it with speed and girth. Ny’tauja McKinnon played a big role in the win. She was able to grab some crucial rebounds by outmuscling her opponents and she helped the team clog up the paint on defense.

One area Johnson says she’d like to improve is converting on easy opportunities. Chatman finished with 17 points, but missed a couple of easy layups early in the game. Broadnax led Newton with 19 points.

Johnson said, “We left a lot of buckets up there with the layups. Looking for the foul instead of looking for the basket. I love their aggressiveness today we just gotta convert that to points.”