MADISON, Ga. — Playoff atmosphere.
That’s what Newton Lady Rams coach Tiffani Johnson called Saturday evening’s matchup with Morgan County. The fourth-ranked Lady Rams went on the road to deliver the Lady Bulldogs a 65-57 defeat in a game that got real tight for Newton toward the end.
After being down by as many as 14 points throughout the game, Morgan County’s Miranda Powell buried a jumper to tie the ballgame at 56 with close to two minutes left in regulation. But that’s when Newton’s Lexii Chatman went to work.
The senior guard sliced through the lane and tossed in a layup despite the outreach of two lengthy Bulldog defenders, drawing a foul in the process. Chatman would sink the free throw, giving Newton a 59-56 lead. But then on Morgan County’s subsequent possession, Chatman swooped in and stole the inbounds pass.
The forced turnover eventually led to two points as Diamond Swift would go to the line and sink a pair of foul shots to stretch Newton’s lead to 61-56.
Johnson lauded Chatman’s presence on a night where she called her team’s overall effort a bit out of sorts, following a four-day layoff due to the past week’s inclement weather.
“Lexii’s energy was huge tonight,” Johnson said. “Her energy is what saved us tonight.”
Despite the closeness and sloppy play in the fourth quarter — Newton went almost five minutes without scoring a field goal in the final frame — Johnson said she’s glad to see her bunch close out a tough game that featured some postseason style adversity.
“I was definitely proud of the way they finished it,” Johnson said. “This is just like what you’re going to see in the postseason. A playoff atmosphere. We didn’t play a good game. We were off our game tonight. I’m sure that had something to do with it. We hadn’t touched the ball or seen each other since Tuesday, so I’m hoping it was just some rust. But it’s something everybody’s dealing with.”
Newton’s rust wasn’t particularly evident at the onset. The Class AAAAAAA fourth-ranked Rams (16-2, 5-0 in Region 8-AAAAAAA) started fast, as Erianna Card’s two free throws and back-to-back buckets, one a 3-pointer, from Chatman helped Newton to an early 11-3 lead.
Newton had a 15-9 advantage at the end of the first quarter, but then a 10-2 spurt to open the second quarter stretched the lead to 25-11. That run was punctuated by a Jurnee Smith lay-in at the 4:47 mark. It was a balanced scoring effort, as all five of Newton’s starters found the basket in the second quarter on the way to a 32-21 Newton halftime lead.
Morgan County caught fire in the third quarter, particularly from beyond the arc as junior guard Lou Reid and Powell took turns sinking treys to pull Newton’s advantage to 47-41. The Rams would go into the final quarter up by eight after Chatman buried a put-back bucket with under 10 seconds left in the quarter.
Chatman finished with 20 points, while Smith added 14 and Jada Franklin chipped in with nine, including Newton’s first field goal in an otherwise dry-shooting fourth quarter.
Johnson said her team won’t have a lot of practice time following the almost week-long weather-related break. They’ll be off Sunday, back to practice on Monday and then will travel to region foe Grayson Tuesday before hosting South Gwinnett Thursday in a make-up game and then welcoming Rockdale on Friday for senior night.