As the top-ranked Newton Rams get ready for life after the holiday tournament season this week, they do so carrying momentum from last week when the Rams took their show on the road for a holiday tourney finale against some of the top talent in the nation and came back champions.
Isaiah Miller had 24 points and nine rebounds while JD Notae chipped in with 17 points, five steals and nine boards as Newton defeated a Spartanburg Day 73-64 last Friday night to win the Farm Bureau Insurance Classic Tournament championship at Dorman High School in Spartanburg, SC.
The matchup was a highly anticipated one, as it featured two of the nation’s best players in Spartanburg Day junior Zion Williamson and Newton's sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans.
Williamson has been an internet sensation this season for his high scoring performances and electrifying dunks despite being 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. He scored 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against Newton, but 23 of those points game in the first half. Thanks to great Newton defense — particularly by Hagans who guarded Williamson one-on-one for much of the second half — Williamson had just one point in the first 15 of 16 minutes of play in the final two quarters.
The Rams came back from a 35-25 deficit to get the win and secure the title in a talent rich tournament that cemented Newton coach Rick Rasmussen’s beliefs that his team can compete with anyone in the nation.
“It was a great tournament loaded with talent,” Rasmussen said. “We won by 21 points, 18 points and nine points in our three games. A lot of college coaches where telling us how great of an accomplishment that was because of how stacked the tournament was. And I think our guys already thought they could play with anybody, but this helped them learn that when we stick together and buy in to our responsibilities, we are a championship team.”
Rasmussen acknowledged that a few seeds of doubt may have crept into Newton’s psyche in the tournament’s finale. After rushing out to a 15-10 lead in the first quarter — that could’ve been 17-10 if not for a missed dunk from Miller — Williamson put on a show in the second quarter and helped Spartanburg Day build a 35-25 lead at halftime.
“Well, you know, Spartanburg was the home team and everybody’s there to see Zion,” he said. “I think our guys got a little shook in the first half with the surroundings. But I got on to them pretty good at halftime. I told them ‘You’re making (Zion) the show instead of Newton.’ When we finally got back to doing what we were doing, we began to play like we’re capable.”
In the second half, Rasmussen employed a combination of a sagging 2-3 zone and full court man-to-man defense from Hagans on Williamson in order to slow him down.
“By the end of the game, Zion was worn out,” Rasmussen said. “I think that’s probably the best stretch of defense he’s seen this season.”
Darvin Jones got the offense going in the third quarter by hitting a pair of threes to ignite a run that helped Newton build a 16 point lead before Williamson scored seven points in the game’s final minute.
Rasmussen also praised 6-foot-6 senior Josh Tukes who had 11 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots while showing no back down on defense whenever he drew the assignment of guarding Williamson down low.
“He showed no fear against him,” Rasmussen said. “Of course Zion is their biggest player, so every time they got the ball down to him, Josh was right there banging on him.”
Notae and Hagans were named to the all-tournament team, as the Rams at several times looked like the tournament’s clearly dominant team.
Newton started its week in Spartanburg with an 85-64 win over Boiling Springs where Notae had 29 points and Miller scored 21. The Rams followed that performance up with an impressive 70-52 win over Gaston Day, which is the top-ranked private Christian team in North Carolina.
Newton lifted its record to a perfect 13-0 and scooted up a notch to No. 13 nationally, according to MaxPreps.com. Rasmussen's squad is now preparing for back-to-back home games this week against rivals Rockdale County (4-10) and Class AAAA No. 4 Eastside (9-4) on Jan. 6 and 7 respectively.
Lady Rams Impressive in Birmingham
The No. 7 Newton Lady Rams went 2-1 in the BallNPrep Powher Holiday Invite in Birmingham, Ala. this past week. Newton registered a 60-47 victory over Brewbaker Tech (Montgomery, Ala.) and notched a 45-36 win over Bob Jones High. Newton’s only loss was to Stewart’s Creek of Smyrna, Tenn. Stewart’s Creek is considered the 14th best team in the state of Tennessee, according to Maxpreps.com.
The Lady Rams will also face Rockdale and Eastside in home games on Friday and Saturday.