COVINGTON, Ga. — Rick Rasmussen has done his homework on the Lambert Longhorns. But then, when talking about the long-time Newton Rams boys basketball coach, that’s nothing new.
Rasmussen and his ninth-ranked Rams (21-7) will host Lambert (21-6) Saturday in a first round Class AAAAAAA matchup that tips off at 7 p.m. It’ll be a rematch from the December 1 game where Newton thoroughly dominated a then-ranked Lambert squad, 88-63.
The game served as somewhat of a coming out party for Newton power forward Armani Harris, who matched up head-to-head with highly regard, 6-foot-8 Lambert forward, Colin Granger, and dominated him to the tune of a career-high 39 points.
But as Rasmussen has watched his own team progress through the season, while juxtaposing what he sees from it to what he sees out of Lambert, the Newton coach is expecting a much different ballgame Saturday night.
“I think they’ll be much more ready to play than the first time,” Rasmussen said. “The first time we played, they were ranked really, really high, and it was just a different situation for them mentally, I think. This time, I know they’re not going to overlook us at all. And we’ve gotta be ready for the different things about them we know we may face.”
Rasmussen said Lambert likes to mix up its defenses, sometimes employing a 3-2 zone, “that looks kind of like a 2-3 sometimes.” He said he expects an assortment of man-to-man, full court zone press and half court trap looks throughout the night, which is why he said he’s tried to get his team ready for a kitchen sink approach.
“It’s just a lot of different things, and we’ve got to be prepared for all of that, and that’s what we’ve prepared them for,” Rasmussen said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to adjust to those things when they come.”
But it’s not just Lambert’s defense that’s caught Rasmussen’s attention. He’s high on Longhorn point guard, Mitch Ganote who was named Region 5-AAAAAAA Player of the Year. And Granger, at 6-foot-8, 223 pounds is imposing. But Rasmussen is quick to point out that Lambert is not just a two-man tandem.
“They’ve got a kid by the name of Luke Champion who can just flat out fill it up from behind three,” Rasmussen said. “He’s shooting 45 percent from 3-point range, and he’s averaging about 11 points which most of those are just straight 3-pointers. But then they’ve got a kid named (Braxton) Beaty who averages about 15 a game. He’s probably their most athletic guard.”
Both teams will come into the game smarting just a bit from less-than-desired region tournament finishes. Newton fell to Grayson last Saturday in the Region 8-AAAAAAA tournament championship game, while Lambert got bumped by West Forsyth, losing 80-71 in its region tournament’s semifinals.
The Longhorns bounced back to take a 75-70 win from Forsyth Central in the consolation game which, Rasmussen says, should give them a little boost heading into Saturday.
“They sort of got upset in their region tournament, which I’m sure they’re not happy about, but they won their third place game, and they’ve had a week to get more confident and better,” he said.
But so has Newton.
Rasmussen said he’s been pleased with his squad’s energy and attention to detail during practice this week.
“We just came out of a great practice (Friday),” he said. “The kids’ attitudes were awesome. And it’s just been a really good week overall. I’m really proud of them. We talked about the Grayson game right after, and then we’ve moved on.”
If Newton can move on past Lambert Saturday, things likely won’t get much easier. The winner of the Newton-Lambert clash will face the winner of defending Class AAAAAAA state champion Meadowcreek (20-5) and Duluth (14-15).
- Tyrease Brown recovering from illness. Rasmussen said his team has enjoyed relatively good health this week, save for Brown who he said has been battling a “strep throat, flu type of thing.” “He practiced today, but he was a little puny,” Rasmussen said. “He’s only had one practice over the last three days, but we’re hoping he’s going to be ready to go for us and we’re expecting him to be in the starting lineup Saturday.”
- Getting Deeper. From the beginning of the season, Rasmussen has alluded to the notion that his team will go farther if his bench gets deeper. That’s seemingly been happening as of late, particularly with 6-foot-2 junior forward Doug Moore. Rasmussen has referred to Moore as having the “Draymond Green” effect on his team, as Moore’s scrappy play is responsible for an increase in garbage time buckets and timely rebounds and grabbing of loose balls that extend possessions. Beyond Green, senior guard, Mike Mathison has been valuable as both a defender and occasionally as a spot-up shooter from beyond the arc. And juniors Max Calloway and Jaiden Hall have become greater contributors as the season has progressed.
- Huge Accolades for Harris, Tre Clark. Both Clark and Harris have been named to the prestigious Atlanta Tip-Off Club’s All-Metro Midseason Team roster. Both players have averaged well north of 20 points per game, and have been the recipients of multiple Division I scholarship offers. Clark recently committed to VCU, while Harris holds 10 total offers, including four from Division I schools (Presbyterian, Alcorn State, Loyola Maryland and Marylan-Eastern Shore, and constantly growing interest from others. Clark and Harris find themselves on a All-Metro roster with the likes of Holy Spirit Prep’s Anthony Edwards, who just committed to Georgia, Norcross’ Brandon Boston and McEachern’s Okoro Isaac. Lambert players, Colin Granger and Mitch Ganote are on the list as well.
Rasmussen called it a tremendous honor for two deserving players.
“The Atlanta Tip-Off club controls the Naismith Awards and is made up of a respected group of coaches on the committee,” he said. “I’m honored to be on the selection team, but that doesn’t guarantee your players being selected. We’re very proud of Armani and Tre. It’s a list that includes the entire metro Atlanta area, probably over 20 counties. There’s a ton of talent in metro Atlanta, and those guys are part of it.”
- State Tournament fixture. When Newton defeated Rockdale 60-51 in the first round of the region tournament, it marked the sixth straight season Newton’s reached the 20-win mark, as well as the sixth consecutive state tournament berth. You’ll have to go back to the 2012-13 season to find the last Newton squad that didn’t make the postseason.