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PREP BASKETBALL: Five things learned from Newton (boys) vs. Rockdale
WATCH: Postgame interview with Newton coach Rick Rasmussen
Armani Harris
Newton senior power forward Armani Harris had 17 points, which included a bunch of clutch free throws down the stretch, in the seventh-ranked Rams' 67-61 win over region foe Rockdale Friday. -photo by Anthony Banks

Rick Rasmussen Postgame

Newton Rams boys basketball coach Rick Rasmussen chats with our Michael Pope regarding the No. 7 Rams' win against rival Rockdale.

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COVINGTON, Ga. -- The Newton Rams defeated their Region 8-AAAAAAA opponent and neighboring county rival Rockdale 67-61 on Friday night in a tough fought battle. 

The Rams jumped out to an early 20-5 lead but let it slip away during the second quarter, leading to a thrilling, and for the Rams, frustrating second half. Here are five things we learned from the game. 

  1. Armani Harris is not your average big man.

Harris has made a name for himself thanks to his emphatic defense and silky-smooth inside game. But in Friday’s win, his performance from the foul stripe stood out, and in the end, made the difference. The game was littered with fouls, lending to Harris shooting 16 free throws. Harris went 13-16 (81%) which is a beyond impressive number for your average big man. His physical offense demands physical defense, making his ability to get those extra points at the line so valuable for the Rams. 

2. Newton is no recipient of “home cooking.” At least not Friday night.  

After the game, Rams’ head coach Rick Rasmussen was not shy in voicing his frustration of the game’s officiating. 

“We kind of got paralyzed by the way the game was being officiated,” Rasmussen said after the game. Any home crowd is bound to be upset at calls going against their team, but not often is it as justified as what we saw last night. It seemed like on every shot, someone fouled someone, more often than not, the call going against the Rams. Rasmussen voiced his frustration, explaining that they have experienced this at home all season. When asked about the upcoming game at Shiloh, coach jabbed, “The strange part of it is, we’re almost glad we are going to be on the road.” It will be interesting to monitor if this trend continues for Newton. 

3. Newton’s fourth straight region championship will not come easily.  The Rams are coming off three straight region championship, putting a huge bullseye on their back. Though they are more than talented enough to achieve the remarkable feat of a four-peat, it’s definitely no shoo-in. Rockdale came into Friday’s game with a 6-9 overall record and an 0-2 region mark, sitting second to last. Yet the Bulldogs gave Newton a run for its money, and they aren’t even one of the top teams in the region. Testament to the strength of the region. Now there were a lot of variables that lead to such a tight game — raw emotions of a cross town rivalry, an intense crowd, and questionable officiating — but the Rams probably feel the victory should have come a little more easily. With such stout competition, this year’s Region 8 AAAAAAA tournament is destined to be a classic. 

4. Newton can win the tough game.  The Rams ability to rally to victory despite every opportunity to give in or let the game slip away is proof of their mental toughness, will to win and Rasmussen’s level-headed coaching. The game was tough, the crowd was tough, the referees were tough, but in the end, Newton was tougher. This trait is not only gladly welcomed, but necessary for great teams. It’s particularly impressive, given the new faces and new roles old faces on this team have had to learn to play to. If the Rams are able to hone in on this attribute, they can go far this year. 

5. A win is a win. As much as the media can nitpick, fans can complain and coaches can be frustrated, winning is the goal. Newton achieved that goal Friday night. Sitting with a 2-1 Region record, currently third in the region, Newton still has everything it wants out in front of it. The Rams will take their next step next toward that goal of region supremacy Tuesday on the road against a strong Shiloh squad in another region matchup. The Generals (11-5, 2-1) are currently sitting in somewhat of a three-way tie for second in the region, although Newton holds a region standings tiebreaker over South Gwinnett now, as the Rams defeated the Comets in region play 61-52 back on December 7.