COVINGTON, Ga. — On Thursday, the Newton High School girls’ and boys’ basketball teams will travel to Collins Hill High School for a doubleheader in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.
The action will open with the fourth-seeded Lady Rams looking to hand the top-seeded Lady Eagles their first loss of the season. Following the completion of that game, the third-seeded Rams will take the floor in hopes of knocking off the second-seeded Eagles on their home court.
Here’s a breakdown of how the Newton girls’ and boys’ teams match up against their first-round opponents:
No. 4 Newton (16-11) vs. No. 1 Collins Hill (27-0), 6 p.m.
Second-round matchup for winner: No. 2 Roswell/No. 3 Pebblebrook
After rolling past South Gwinnett in the opening round of the Region 8-AAAAAAA tournament, the Lady Rams suffered a pair of heartbreaking losses to Archer (40-37) and Grayson (56-55) that forced them to settle for the No. 4 seed in the big dance. Consequently, they must now find a way to scuff up the Lady Eagles’ record for the first time this season in order to advance to the second round.
It’s undoubtedly a daunting task, but one that Newton head coach Tiffani Johnson and her staff believe their girls are capable of completing.
“Of course you look at the size of the giant in front of you, but it doesn’t mean they can’t fall. We’ve gone in as underdogs before,” Johnson said. “We understand the focus, heart, effort and energy it takes to get it done. It’s just a matter of maintaining all of that for 32 minutes.”
Collins Hill’s record jumps off the page, but a deeper dive into the numbers shows just how dominant the club has been this year. The Lady Eagles haven't simply defeated all 27 opponents who’ve stepped on the court with them — they’ve obliterated them.
They’ve outscored the opposition 1,892-909 this season for an average margin of victory of 36.4 points. Their closest game was 17-point win over McGill-Toolen (Ala.), which finished the regular season at 23-6 and will be competing in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class AAAAAAA regional semifinals this weekend.
But while Collins Hill’s statistics are impressive, Newton might be able to take advantage of a team that has yet to be tested in a close contest this season.
“Handle the pressure and make them play some half-court defense, not get in a track meet with them, limit our turnovers and just stay close enough to them,” Johnson said in regards to her team’s keys to victory. “They beat almost everybody on their schedule by at least 20, so maybe staying close to them might produce a little discomfort. That’s the game plan so far.”
The Lady Eagles have size all over the court and a deep bench. In order for the Lady Rams to pull the upset on the road, they must find a way to control the tempo and keep Collins Hill from utilizing its size to bully its way to easy buckets.
No. 3 Newton (19-9) vs. No. 2 Collins Hill (16-11), 7:30 p.m.
Second-round matchup for winner: No. 1 Cherokee/No. 4 Westlake
The Rams locked up a No. 3 seed for the state playoffs with a thrilling victory over Archer in the consolation round of the Region 8-AAAAAAA tournament Monday afternoon.
Newton had found itself on the brink of collecting monumental wins over Grayson and Archer in recent weeks, but faltered down the stretch each time. In Monday’s victory, however, the team found a way to come together in the fourth quarter to close out the game as a unit.
“I thought that for the first time all season long, in the toughest moment, we just were the tougher team,” Newton head coach Charlemagne Gibbons said. “I think that’s how we came out with the win, so hopefully that bodes well for us moving forward in the playoffs.”
First up for Newton this postseason will be a trip to Suwanee to take on the No. 2 seed from Region 6. The Rams enter with the better overall record, but they understand winning a championship is all about getting hot at the right time of the year.
“Obviously, in the classification 7A that you play in, everybody is going to be battle-tested,” Gibbons said. “ I’ve known coach [Joseph] Dix for a while. They’re going to press, they’re going to be aggressive and they’re going to be a tough team when they’re playing at home. You’ve got to go in there with your best foot forward.”
The Eagles have won three of their last four games, most recently getting blown out by North Gwinnett, 86-55, in the region championship last weekend. To hand them their second straight loss, Newton must limit second-chance shots and defend well in transition while also capitalizing on easy scoring opportunities on the offensive end.
“When you have opportunities to convert, you’ve got to convert to keep the pressure on them because good teams will convert against you. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing, is converting the opportunities that we have,” Gibbons said.