COVINGTON, Ga. - Students, fans and spectators alike rushed the court, and cheers resonated throughout the arena as the final buzzer sounded with the Newton Rams (4-3, 2-0) taking down the No.1 Grayson Rams (8-1, 0-1) at home.
Grayson came in with confidence at an all-time high as they were undefeated and the state's top-ranked team in AAAAAAA ball, but that did not stop the Newton from knocking them off in overtime by a score of 84-80 and handing the, their first loss of the season.
Newton trailed by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter with 3:20 left to play, but that did not let that deter them as they continued to fight and inch closer and closer to Grayson as the quarter continued.
After a missed 3-point shot, Jordan Marshall corralled the rebound and laid it in to pull Newton within seven. From this point until the end of regulation, the only points Grayson would score come off free throws. The last four trips Grayson had at the line, each player went one-of-two, and they were held to four points in the final three minutes.
After the first trip to the line, Newton would rebound the ball and take it up court as T.J. Clark would hit a three to pull Newton within five. Then after the next free-throw attempt, Jordan Marshall would drive and lay it in to bring the score to 72-68.
After one hit free throw by Grayson, T.J. Clark would drive up the court, hit a fadeaway jumper, and get fouled on the play. Clark would miss the free throw, and Newton would immediately foul. Grayson would once again only hit one free throw, and this time Caleb Byrd would get to the free-throw line and hit both to close the gap to a 74-72 score.
With 24.4 seconds left in regulation, the Rams would get the ball back and call a time out to regroup. Shawn Smith would bring the basketball in, pass it to Marshall, who passed it to Byrd with about 17.7 seconds in regulation.
Byrd, with elite dribbling skills, would work his way past the tight Grayson defense and would lay the ball in with 6.2 seconds remaining on the clock. Grayson would get the ball up the court quickly but miss the shot as the final buzzer sounded to send the game into overtime.
With Byrd scoring four points on Newton's last two possessions of regulation to tie the game up, he remained calm and collected in this high-pressure situation. This is a tough moment for any athlete, but Byrd knew what he needed to do.
"It's pressure, but at the same time, it's not really that much pressure because I've built myself to do this," said Byrd. "Before the game even started, I knew it was going to come down to the wire, and I knew I just had to have confidence and go."
Byrd's confidence would continue into overtime as he and Smith would team up to score most of Newton's points late. Grayson would take an early 76-74 lead behind free throws from Toneari Lane, but Newton would quickly respond.
This time it was Stephon Castle, who hit a huge three to give his team a 77-76 lead in overtime over Grayson. Grayson's Deivon Smith, who led his team with 19 points, would go one-for-two at the free-throw line to tie the game at 77.
Newton would take back the lead at 79-77 after a steal and layup by Byrd. Grayson would squander their next possession, and Newton's Smith would earn a pivotal trip to the free-throw line. He would hit both and give the Rams an almost insurmountable 81-77 lead with around 35 seconds left to play.
Grayson would not let up as Deivon Smith missed a layup, but his teammate Josh Smith was there for the putback to bring the game to 81-77.
Byrd would tack on two more free throws for Newton with 16.9 seconds left to extend his team's lead to 83-79.
Grayson's Caleb Murphy, like many of his teammates before him, would go one-for-two at the charity stripe, and they would trail Newton 83-80 with 9.2 seconds in the game.
The visiting Grayson team would foul Byrd with 1.1 seconds left, and his free throws would seal their fate. Byrd would go one-for-two at the foul line for just his second miss of the second half, but Max Calloway pulled down the rebound as the buzzer sounded.
This was not a back-and-forth game all night long as Newton trailed by double digits on multiple occasions. However, they were relentless with their effort, and despite trailing by as many as ten at the halftime break, head coach Charlemagne Gibbons urged his guys to stop making mistakes at halftime and was proud of their constant effort.
"The message at halftime was 'Is it them, or is it us?' We had four missed layups and at least five swipes where they swiped the ball away in transition, and we didn't get a chance in transition. If we make at least three of those, it's only 44-40 at the half, so I thought it was more us than them," Gibbons said. "Even when we were down ten, I think our guys still had good spirit in the second half, and I was proud of our ability to maintain."
Gibbons was pleased with how the team gelled and meshed tonight with Byrd leading the way with 26 points. Byrd's double-digit efforts were not alone as Smith finished with 14 points, Clark finished with 14 points, and Jordan Marshall finished with 12 points.
"We all have to trust each other. He (Caleb Byrd) scores the basketball, and he's a really good player. I thought you saw him trust some other guys to make plays and move the ball tonight. He let some guys make some big plays, and he himself made some big plays," Gibbons said. "All of them have different roles; I mean Shawn's heart, golly, enough cannot be said about how he gutted that game. The young guys are talented, and they're coming along, and their grit along with the older guys is going to be a nice mix."
Smith echoed the sentiments of his coach and knows this was a huge team win that they can build off of for the future. He credited Gibbons's emphasis on conditioning as a huge help in allowing the team to keep up and control Grayson's fast-paced offense.
"This win means a lot to us. Coach has been pushing us, and we've been practicing very hard. We knew we were coming against a tough team, so we knew we had to bring it tonight," Smith said. "Conditioning was very hard, and he really stresses that to us, and it turned out to work tonight."
Byrd, Smith and Gibbons all complimented the electric atmosphere that was brought by the Newton crowd, and the energy could be felt throughout the building from the opening tip.
Gibbons knows that this is a huge team win that his team can build momentum on, and he is looking for just that in their coming practices and upcoming rivalry game against the Rockdale County Bulldogs on Friday, Dec. 13.
"Hopefully, they come into tomorrow, ready to go back to work. Great win, 24 hours you got to go back to work because you have a great Rockdale team on Friday," Gibbons said. "It's a rivalry game so you can never take anything for granted in a rivalry game. Rockdale has some good players, so they're going to play tough. We talk about being 2-1 or 3-0 at Christmas in region, and we have a chance to be 3-0, so we can't go in there slipping because Rockdale has a good team."