ATLANTA, Ga. — Morehouse College hosted the Martin Luther King Dream Challenge on Monday in Atlanta, and 16 teams took part in the showcase, including the Class AAAAAAA No. 5 Newton Rams and the Class AAAAA No. 1 Warner Robins Demons.
And it was the Rams who utilized another all-star performance from Georgia commit Ashton Hagans to route the Demons 80-65.
Hagans turned in his ninth triple-double of the season, tallying 23 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. His dominant outing netted him Player of the Game honors.
Although things ended well for Hagans and company, Warner Robins jumped out of the gates, seemingly with a desire to prove it could knock off a 7A opponent.
The Demons scored first on Jacolbey Owens’ layup in the first few seconds of the game but wouldn’t keep the small lead for long as Newton’s Ashton Hagans ran back down the court for a layup to tie it at two.
Both teams traded the lead throughout the first quarter, with Warner Robins at one time up 19-16, but neither team could sustain it.
It appeared Warner Robins would hold an advantage heading into the second quarter when Demons’ forward Jaydon Norman went to the line with 50.2 seconds left and sank both free throws to bring their lead to 20-18. Newton’s Tyler Glover ran back down and finished a put-back layup after teammate Tyrease Brown missed a mid-range jumper.
The Demons got the ball back but couldn’t score and Hagans grabbed the rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup to tie the game at 20 to close the quarter.
Newton head coach Rick Rasmussen said he told his team to stay in control after the first quarter.
“The message in the huddle was to stay composed and match their physicality,” Rasmussen said.
The Rams did just that as they dominated the second quarter and saw five players score including three layups by Hagans to add to his 23-point triple-double total. Newton ended the quarter on a 14-1 run to take a 40-35 lead at halftime.
Brown said that at halftime, Rasmussen continued telling the team to keep the pressure on in the second half.
“He told us to keep playing physical and to keep playing defense and we’d be good,” said Brown, who was one of four Newton players to score in double figures.
The third quarter saw more back and forth action. Hagans forced a turnover and went coast-to-coast as fans rose out of their seat anticipating a dunk; and he did not disappoint as he slammed home a two-handed jam to stretch Newton’s lead to 45-37.
Warner Robins roared back as it slashed through Newton’s 2-3 zone for consecutive layups, including an and-one layup and foul shot by Jaydon Norman to cut the lead to 48-45. Norman ended the night with 13 points.
Later in the quarter, Jaron Zanders completed a 5-0 run with a pair of free throws, cutting the lead to 52-50 after a 5-0 run.
Newton would answer back with a 5-0 spurt of its own to close the quarter, punctuated by Hagans who snagged a defensive rebound with about 10 seconds left on the clock, dribbled the ball down the court and buried a step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer with a hand in his face. He stood there with his arm up, hand cocked and a smile on his face as teammates ran up to him and fans yelled.
They closed the third quarter at 57-50, and never looked back, pulling away in the fourth for what turned into a rather comfortable win.
Rasmussen said he was proud of his team’s physicality.
“I thought by the end of the game we were the more physical team,” Rasmussen said. “I thought from that second quarter on we created a more physical presence than they did, and our physicality and toughness eventually took a toll,” Rasmussen added.
When asked about what contributed to Hagans’ big night, the nation’s 2019 No. 2 point guard prospect said he saw nothing but open space whenever he scored or got his teammates to score.
“It was wide, they were spaced out,” Hagans said. “So, my shooter would be wide open in the corner, or my bigs would be open, and that’s what I looked for.”
Rasmussen said their game-plan to defeat Warner Robins was to slow down the Demons offensively.
“I knew they were a really good team because they had beaten Grayson,” Rasmussen said. “Our game plan was to try and slow them up as much as possible. I thought by the end of the game they were worn out.”
Dre Butler followed with 19 points including two monster dunks and Brown dropped 16 points for Newton in the win.
Owens finished with 16 points and Georgia State commit Nelson Phillips added 13 points for the Demons.