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PREP BASKETBALL: Newton wins thrilling victory in final seconds against rivals Rockdale
T.J. Clark
T.J. Clark's 20 points led the Rams and helped lead his team to a thrilling 80-74 victory over their rivals the Rockdale County Bulldogs. Photo by Briyanna Thompson.

CONYERS, Ga. - With a little under a minute in the game, Rockdale County Bulldogs’ Jheim McDonald would hit a shot to tie the game at 74 with the Newton Rams.

The Bulldogs had fought back from a double-digit deficit in the second half to get them to this tie score.

However, it would be all for naught as the Rams would score the remaining points in the game. 

On the very next possession following McDonald’s game-tying shot, T.J. Clark would hit a tough shot of his own to give his team a 76-74 lead at around the 27 seconds mark.

The Bulldogs would try to move the ball up the court quickly, but the Rams tight defense would force an errant pass, which went straight to the Rams Shawn Smith.

Smith would race down the court before passing it off to Caleb Byrd, who would slam it home with authority to give the Rams a 78-74 lead.

The Bulldogs would try to fire it down court after the exciting play, but T.J. Clark would recover the deep pass, and the opposition foiled him with less than 10 seconds left.

Clark would hit both of his free throws, and that would be enough to secure a six-point victory for this Rams team.

It was a standout night for Clark as he led the team with 20 points. Leading in scoring and hitting the game-winning bucket may be Clark’s best game to date, but Rams head coach Charlemagne Gibbons knows that this is the first of many. 

“He’s young, but he’s going to be a big-time player,” Gibbons said. “You just try to show these guys that if you’re on the court and play minutes you’re a good player, you’re going to get a chance to make the big plays or make a big impact on the game and I think he showed that tonight.”

Clark has been impactful for the Rams all season long, but some other guys like Harry James, who finished as the Rams third-leading scorer with nine points, and Sean Thompkins both had solid nights while seeing an uptick in minutes. Gibbons credited this to him wanting to build up the depth of his team in the early stages of the season.

“We have a deep team, and this is the time of the year when I have to continue to develop some depth,” Gibbons said. “Our second group battles our first group each and every day in practice. To the spectator, it looks like he’s got his second unit in there, for me, I could go with any of those guys.”

Gibbons complimented the unselfish play of some of his reserve players as being the reason they were successful on the night.

Caleb Byrd, who finished with 18 points, was consistent as well and came up clutch, scoring 14 of his points in the fourth quarter of play. 

Gibbons has hammered home the point that he would love to be 2-1 or 3-0 by Christmas, and he’s gotten his wish. The Rams will take a break from region play as they take on the Morgan County Bulldogs next on Saturday, Dec. 14, in the “Battle of I-20” tournament at Newton.