NORCROSS, Ga. — After two crushing one-point losses, the Newton Rams got back to their winning ways by defeating defending 2016-17 Class AAAAAAA state champion Tift County 67-45 in the Hawks-Naismith Holiday Classic at Norcross High School Saturday.
“It feels really good [to get back in the win column],” Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said after the game.
For the Rams, Tyrease Brown got back to his hot-shooting pace as he led the way with 18 points while draining six three-pointers, but senior power forward Dre Butler was right behind him posting 17 points and turning in a sterling defensive effort — not bad for a guy who hadn’t practiced much prior to Saturday’s game.
“Dre was out of town this week visiting relatives for the holidays because he knew for the next week he couldn’t be out of town for our tournament,” Rasmussen said. “That’s why he didn’t start. He hadn’t been there, so his hands weren’t working quite as well at first.”
He got going in the second half, along with the rest of the sixth-ranked Rams as the pace quickened and the newest Georgia Bulldog basketball commit, Ashton Hagans, put up 14 points with eight of them coming from the free throw line. The five-star point guard also tallied 12 rebounds and eight assists.
The game got off to a slow start for both teams as three of Brown’s three-pointers helped the Rams muster a 12-11 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter was more of the same as both teams struggled to get going. “The game was two slow,” coach Rasmussen stated. “They wanted a game like 50-49. They wanted to make it ugly and slow down in the half court like there’s no shot clock and all that.” The halftime score bared that out as Tift County went to the locker room holding on to a 23-22 lead.
In the third quarter, Newton got back to the explosive offense they’ve played all year. Lead by Dre Butler’s seven points in the quarter, the Rams got back up 38-31.
Rasmussen praised Butler’s second half surge. “He was a little bit rusty in the first half, and then he got back in a groove. I thought he made a big difference finishing at the rim and rebounding defensively.”
The Rams finally pulled away in the fourth quarter, led by stellar play from Hagans who put up 11 of his points and four rebounds in the closing quarter. The game ended with an emphatic exclamation point of a dunk from Hagans with four seconds left. Although the game started slow and close, in the second half, Newton outscored Tift County 45-22.
“We knew we had to use our pressure and get them sped up,” Rasmussen said. “I think we forced like six turnovers at the start of the third quarter. Then we got out and ran a bit. We’re successful when we’re running, and I thought we did a better job of that in the second half.”
The Rams lifted their record to 8-2 and will look to continue their winning ways in the FBI Classic in Spartanburg, SC on Dec. 28-30.