Good teams usually find a way to win games, even when their shot isn’t falling. That’s what the Lady Rams were able to do against Langston Hughes on Wednesday evening in a low-scoring 35-28 Newton win to advance to play West Forsyth in the Sweet 16 on the road, Friday.
“Coach Ray made a comment in the locker room, ‘We’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss,’” Coach Tiffani Johnson said.
“We were stalled on offense today and I think that stalled us out as far as energy and everything else, but I think defensively we did decent and just those boards allowed them to stay in the game.”
Newton’s defense was big in the win. They scored off turnovers and played tough interior defense to hold the Lady Panthers to six points in the final quarter. Newton’s offense struggled as a whole, especially at the charity stripe where the Lady Rams went 6-19, which is a concern for Johnson going forward.
“We finally found our rhythm defensively. Since they weren’t a good shooting team we were able to sit back in that 2-3 and still be aggressive with some traps and to get us moving, get us going. Like I said, defensively we were focused and ready, it was just we couldn’t turn our defense into offense today.”
When speaking on the Lady Rams recent struggles at the line, Johnson said, “I don’t know if we just have a virus right now, hopefully it’s one of those temporary bugs. [Thursday] that will be one of our main focuses.”
Newton has been working on effort and they’ve had that the past two games, which is a good sign for Johnson.
The score was 8-5 after the first quarter that saw Newton get beat on the offensive boards, giving Langston Hughes a short lead.
Kayla Smith scored the first bucket of the second period off a Lady Panther turnover. Newton struggled from the line, but trailed just 11-9 following Jurnee Smith’s layup. Nidajzha Tennyson’s steal allowed Imani Broadnax to get open and connect on a long two-pointer keeping Newton within two points (13-11) with almost three minutes left in the first half.
Erianna Card was fouled after corralling the rebound and it put Langston Hughes in the bonus, but Card would miss the free throw.
Tennyson gave Newton its first lead of the game with a three coming off a pass from Kayana Henderson. Langston Hughes answered swiftly and took the lead back with Anesha Smith’s layup to go up by one.
The Lady Panthers benefitted the most from Newton’s slow start as the Lady Rams couldn’t drop a pen in the ocean and they trailed Langston Hughes 15-14 at halftime.
Broadnax got open for a trey and drained it as the Lady Rams took a 17-15 lead out of halftime. After Newton had taken a five-point lead, the Lady Panthers clawed back and tied it following a putback forcing a timeout by Newton.
Newton led 23-22 after three quarters and looked to be at least somewhat in control. Back-to-back baskets for the Lady Rams gave them a 27-22 lead that forced a Lady Panther timeout with 6:13 remaining in the game.
Janelle Cook went around a Lady Panther defender and got the layup to go, providing Newton with a seven-point cushion in the final 1:13 of the game. With Newton up by eight in the final 30 seconds, there was nothing the Lady Panthers could do but foul and the Lady Rams kept them at bay in the victory.
Newton faces a tough test against West Forsyth on Friday.
“We prefer to play at home, but we gotta go on the road. They are not like any team that we have played this season,” Johnson said. “They are a little slower, they got a big girl, bigger than anybody we’ve seen. So again, the boards, free throws, getting to the basket, I think we’re the faster team so we’ll be looking to use that advantage. The same things that are always key, defense, rebounding and free throws, will be our focus for Friday.”