COVINGTON, Ga. — On a night where Ashton Hagans was honored for being reaching a rare milestone in Newton basketball history, the junior point guard showed his mettle has he helped push the sixth-ranked Rams to a 66-62 region win over Shiloh Tuesday night.
Hagans, who went toe-to-toe much of the night with fellow UGA commit and Shiloh star Elias King, was one of three Newton players in double figures, pacing the Rams with 18 points in a win that Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said was anything but picture perfect.
“It was an ugly win,” Rasmussen said. “But I told the kids an ugly win is better than a pretty loss.”
It took several defensive stops and Newton turning around its early-game drought from the free-throw line to secure the win and keep Newton on pace with Grayson for the top spot in Region 8-AAAAAAA.
Shiloh came in hot and confident after handing No. 8 Grayson its first region loss Friday, but it was Newton who jumped out of the blocks fast, zooming to a 20-8 lead early in the first quarter. But the Generals ripped off a 12-0 run that tied the score and created a back-and-forth sort of pace that carried over into the second quarter, en route to a 35-35 tie at halftime.
“I thought we took some out-of-character shots and just played out of character in the second and third quarters especially,” Rasmussen said. “Meanwhile, King got hot on the inside and then Ashton and King went back and forth a bit, and I think we kind of got caught up in that whole UGA thing instead of playing our game and doing what we do.”
That closeness would continue in an almost even third quarter where Newton led 49-47 going into the fourth, before finding a bit of defensive revival to corral the Generals in the final three minutes of the game.
“At halftime, all we talked about was defense,” Rasmussen said. “In the second half, we mixed up our defense a bit. Shiloh missed some shots, we had some stops and finally started making free throws. We were also uncharacteristically bad from the line, which I think was another reason why Shiloh made it a game and actually had the lead at one point.”
King scored 20 points on the night for Shiloh, not to be out done Toneari Lane’s game-high 23. Both Hagans and King committed to Georgia last month. King, a 6-foot-7 forward who has guard skills, chose UGA over a plethora of schools, including Memphis, Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech and Auburn.
But beyond the star power, Rasmussen said the game was a grind, thanks to an ultra competitive region.
“There’s familiarity with these teams,” he said. “We know each other’s tendencies. You can expect a lot of battles like this on any given night. Shiloh’s coming off that win over Grayson and are just playing well overall.”
Newton won its fourth straight game, with two more home games — a region clash with Archer (14-4, 3-1) Friday night and then a matchup with Westside-Macon and 6-foot-8 4-star prospect, Khavon Moore during Saturday’s CovNews Super 8 Showcase.
But let Rasmussen tell it, he might actually be relieved once his squad hits the road again next week with games against Warner Robins at The Dream Challenge MLK Classic at Morehouse (Monday) and Morgan County (Saturday Jan. 20).
“Right now, our kids play better on the road,” he said. “There’s more focus and less friends to show off for. Less distractions, maybe. We’ve got to get back to valuing the right things and playing Newton basketball. When we’re at home, we tend to concentrate on trying to make fancy plays and show off for the crowd. And at the end of the day, the crowd wants to see a ‘W.’”