COVINGTON, Ga. — Rick Rasmussen wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to get Thursday night when his seventh-ranked Newton Rams — complete with four first-time starters — took the court in an exhibition matchup against the No. 3 team in Class A-Private.
What he got was a 97-49 romp over Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy, and a I-didn’t-see-this-coming type performance from first-time varsity starter, Tyrese Brown.
Brown, a 5-foot-10 junior guard poured in 45 points in the exhibition win, and though it didn’t count for the win column, it definitely counted for boosting Rasmussen’s confidence in the kind of team this year’s Newton squad could become.
“First of all, I think the team just played well, and (Brown’s scoring performance) is kind of what it festered into,” Rasmussen said.
Brown came out of the gates shooting lights out. He started Newton’s scoring with a pair of free throws, and then followed it up on the Rams’ next trip down the floor by burying his first three-pointers after receiving a kick-out pass from junior point guard Ashton Hagans.
That, and a three-point play by Trey Clark helped Newton race out to an 8-0 lead, and it never looked back. Brown’s 18 first-quarter points and Hagans’ four first-quarter assists helped ensure ELCA would not find a rhythm at any point in the game.
In all, Brown buried 10 threes — many of them coming from assists from Hagans. Hagans, a consensus five-star point guard prospect for the class of 2019, had a good night as well, chipping in with 24 points and eight assists in just three quarters of action.
And Rasmussen said he was most impressed with the fact that Newton’s offensive explosion wasn’t a result of trying or pressing too hard.
“The thing I liked about what (Brown) was doing is he was just doing what he does,” Rasmussen said. “He’s a great shooter. He didn’t stop and start thinking. He just kept playing, and that’s what you have to do when you get in a zone. We did a really good job of feeding him as well. Ashton was going to the post, kicking it back out and seeing the whole floor. He got him the ball enough to get him hot.”
At one point, Brown seemed to be in a bit of disbelief himself about his performance. After a stretch where he nailed a third straight three-pointer, he back-pedaled to the other end of the court with a wry smile and a slight shaking of his head, even as three-fourths packed Newton gym raucously celebrated his shooting performance.
Brown, who spent most of his time last year as a junior varsity starter, — though he practiced extensively with the nationally ranked varsity squad — said it didn’t take him long Thursday night to feel like he was going to have a big game.
“It was really after the third one I hit,” Brown said. “That’s when I knew I was going to have a good night.”
ELCA helped by employing a defense that sort of gambled a bit and seemed to bank on the thought that Brown wouldn’t keep up his torrid pace from beyond the arc. But that gamble backfired.
“After I made like the sixth one, they kept kind of leaving me open and I was wondering if they were going to box-and-one me or something,” Brown said. “But they never did. So I just kept shooting.”
As good as Brown and Hagans were Thursday night, Rasmussen said he believes the other parts around him can continue to get even better, suggesting that the long-time Rams coach believes this team has a high ceiling despite being low on experience.
“Several guys, I don’t think did what they’re capable of doing,” he said. “Juwan (Johnson) and Trey struggled a bit at times. But that’s a good thing because I know what they can do, and it keeps them under the radar.”
But as for Brown, he says he’s working to make sure that this kind of shooting performance isn’t an anomaly. He said in practice he puts up about 40 practice shots each day. Thursday’s performance showed him what he’s capable of.
Rasmussen calls Brown’s attention to improvement “a microcosm of the team’s hard offseason work paying off," and Brown said he has no plans in decreasing his work ethic.
“It just makes me want to go out there and do it again and work even harder,” Brown said.
And his coach seems to think Thursday’s performance can be a foreshadowing of more great days ahead.
“Tyrese works hard every day,” he said. “He doesn’t clown. He values working on what he does well and trying to make it even better. He had a great night tonight. But the scouting report will grow. It’ll get more difficult for him to do that. It may not always be like it was tonight. But at least you know you can do it now. It’s like breaking par in golf. Once you do it once, you know you can do it again.”
Lady Rams run past Lady Chargers
The No. 6 Newton Lady Rams also got off to a hot start on its 2017-18 season with its 86-47 exhibition win against the ELCA Lady Chargers which preceded the boys' game.
Three Lady Rams scored in double figures, including Jurnee Smith's team-leading 14 points. Swift added 13 and Lexi Chatman chipped in with 12. With six returners from last year's Region 8-AAAAAAA runner up and state tournament team, coach Tiffani Johnson said she's looking for pristine precision from her experienced bunch.
"I like the way we came out and played with a lot of energy," Johnson said. "As far as execution, we still have a ways to go to get to where we want."
Both Newton squads will get their first regular season test Tuesday when they travel to North Oconee, with the girls tipping off at 6 p.m. and the boys directly after.