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PREP BASKETBALL: Newton Rams stifling defense gives South Gwinnett trouble
Rams Caleb Byrd was solid on both sides of the ball and played a crucial role in his team’s region opening game victory. Photo by Briyanna Thompson.

COVINGTON, Ga. - In their opening region game of the season, the Newton Rams held an opponent under 50 points for the first time since the opening game of the season and went on to defeat the South Gwinnett Comets 61-47.

Head coach Charlemagne Gibbons has pointed to region play as the most important games of the season and was delighted with his team's second-half performance in this crucial game.

"I was pleased with our energy, especially in the second half. I think in the first half, we got a little bit in our feelings, but coming out after halftime, we came out to the second half and played with the energy that we needed to play with," said Gibbons. "Shots will be here or there, but we can't negotiate our energy level."

The Rams trailed the Comets 19-12 midway through the second quarter, but a 14-1 run by the Rams to close out the first gave them a lead that they would not lose for the remainder of the contest. That run was sparked by the play of three Rams' seniors as Caleb Byrd, Jordan Marshall, and Shawn Smith scored every point on that run.

This group of seniors also scored 24 of the Rams 26 points in the first half and helped push their team ahead of the Comets early on in the contest. Despite not scoring in the third quarter, Byrd finished as the Rams leading scorer with 21 points while Marshall finished with 14 points and Smith finished with 10. T.J. Clark also finished in double-digits with 10 points as well. 

Gibbons was pleased with how Byrd played throughout the contest, but believes his impact on his team goes much further than just what many people see on his stat sheet. 

"Teams have to prepare for him, and as they prepare for him, then other guys are given the opportunity to score the basketball as well," Gibbons said. "His point totals don't really tell the whole story about how much that helps our teams and other guys."

Byrd's explosive offense has been on display all season long, but his expertise on the defensive side of the ball really shined as he had at the very least five steals on the night. Gibbons made it known that he knows his team lacks size, so they have to use their excellent speed to get after the basketball, which they did expertly tonight.

As mentioned earlier, it was a strong showing for Marshall coming off the bench for the Rams, and Gibbons highlighted his play and the play of a few other guys that came off the bench as a considerable boost.

"We had quite a few guys that checked in off the bench that did quite a great job tonight in helping younger players come along and step up," Gibbons said. "I thought Luther Williams did a great job coming off the bench and playing with a lot of energy. I thought in the second half Stephon Castle played with a lot of energy coming off. I also thought Jordan Marshall did a great job having energy, and he did that in the first half, so I really pleaded with guys to match his energy in the second half."

This was a significant region win for the Rams, but their path to victory will be much tougher in their next game as they take on the Grayson Rams at home.  Newton will need all three phases of the game working if they hope to defeat an always-stout Grayson team. Gibbons wants his team to have this mentality heading into that match.

"We got to go fight, man. You just got to go fight; there's nothing else you can say," Gibbons said. "They have a great basketball team, a lot of really good players, well-coached, there's nothing you can say but 'Hey guys, put your big boy pants on and let's go fight."