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PREP BASKETBALL: Newton Rams want to use showcase to rebound from pair of narrow losses
Newton boys basketball coach Rick Rasmussen is looking for a solid showing at the Atlanta Hawks-Naismith Holiday Classic at Norcross Saturday when his Rams take on defending Class AAAAAAA state champion Tift County. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. -- It’s been a tough couple of games for the Newton Rams boys basketball team. 

After jumping out of the gates to a 7-0 start, the seventh-ranked Rams dropped two consecutive games to solid opponents on the last game’s last play, losing both games by a single point. 

The first setback was back on Dec. 12 against No. 2 Grayson — a region 8-AAAAAAA foe. The Grayson Rams escaped Newton High’s gym with a 74-73 win after Newton’s Tre Clark fouled a Grayson player in the final seconds, sending him to the free throw line where he sank a foul shot to break a 73-73 tie.  

He missed the second one, however, and Newton’s Ashton Hagans had a chance to drive to the basket for a game-winning layup. His shot was altered, however, by Grayson’s Kenyon Jackson, and though the Newton fans wanted a foul, none was called and the game was over. 

“We have to play smart in those situations,” Rasmussen said after the end of that game. “But I think this loss could be good for us. The pressure of being undefeated is gone.” 

Heartbreak No. 2 game for Newton just four days later when it traveled to face fifth-ranked Mountain View in the Gwinnett Metro ATL challenge. The Rams fell 66-65 in overtime after a Mountain View player who’d only had two points prior nailed a three-pointer with three seconds left in the overtime period for the win. 

The Rams had a 34-26 lead at halftime, but couldn’t hold on as Mountain View also hit a contested three-pointer at the buzzer in regulation to force overtime. 

“It’s been crazy two-game stretch for us,” Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. “We have to dig down and get better. Tyrease (Brown) and Tre are both not producing for us right now, so we are not as good as a result.” 

Brown and Clark were shooting and scoring seemingly at will during Newton’s first seven games. But as the competition level has increased with a pair of top-five opponents, Rasmussen says that the inexperience of having four new starters may have begun to show up a bit. 

“I think that’s a lot of it,” he said. “We have had some mental breakdowns that first-year varsity players or first-time starters have made. We are watching film, and hopefully will learn from them. But you also have to give Grayson and Mountain View credit. Both of them made plays down the stretch and we did not. Against Mountain View, we had several chances to put the game away in regulation with free throws or defensive stops.” 

Newton will have yet another opportunity Saturday when it faces defending Class AAAAAAA state champion Tift County (7-3). Tift defeated Newton in the Elite Eight round of last season’s state playoffs as a part of its dramatic state title run. But Tift, like Newton, has a much different looking lineup this season, thanks to the graduation of several 2016-17 season standouts. 

Newton will play the Blue Devils Saturday at 6 p.m. at Norcross High. 

Meanwhile, the No. 4 Lady Rams (9-1, 2-0 in Region 8-AAAAAAA) will take on Mays (2-4, 2-2 in Region 5-AAAAAA) at the same showcase at 10 a.m. After losing 48-40 against Harrison in their fourth game of the season — a Harrison team that’s on an eight-game winning streak with just one loss, by the way — the Lady Rams have six straight. 

Saturday’s game will be the first for Newton in a week, and the rest has been welcomed. 

“We had a stretch where we played a lot and I think our legs were getting tired,” said Lady Rams coach Tiffani Johnson. “We’re glad to have had a chance to get bit of a break, catch our breath and spend some time working on us.” 

After this weekend’s action, both teams will leave Georgia for tournaments and showcases. The Lady Rams will head to Birmingham, Ala. for the Ball N Prep Holliday Tournament, while the boys will travel to Spartanburg, SC for the FBI Classic.