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PREP BASKETBALL: Three things to watch when No. 2 Grayson visits No. 6 Newton tonight
Armani Harris
The play of Newton's Armani Harris in the paint could be a deciding factor in the sixth-ranked Rams' ability to exact a little revenge against No. 2 Grayson tonight. -photo by Anthony Banks

COVINGTON, Ga. — It took Newton coach Rick Rasmussen about an hour after all the hoopla surrounding his 300th win died down to start thinking about what it would take to get 301. 

That’s because win No. 301, if it is to come tonight, will have to come in get-back fashion against the Class AAAAAAA No. 2 Grayson Rams. 

Newton lost the two teams’ first matchup back on December 11, suffering a 68-65 setback in overtime in a game that Newton coach Rick Rasmussen maintains was a “winnable game for us.” 

That’s because he saw his squad hold a lead — often times a double-digit one — throughout most of the contest, only surrendering it in the fourth quarter as Grayson began catching fire from behind the arc and, arguably, being on the receiving end of a couple of advantageous calls. 

That’s not to taint the win, though. These two teams are, no doubt, the cream of the crop in Region 8-AAAAAAA, not to mention two of the top squads in Georgia. And in a physical first-game, they battled like the two region alpha dogs they are. 

Here are a few things to watch for in tonight’s 7:30 p.m. matchup in Covington. 

1. Can Tre Clark continue his recent tear? The 6-foot-3 senior has truly seen an increase of spotlights and limelight gravitating his way. He’s been averaging close to 30 points per game so far since the beginning of the month. He exploded for 32 in a come-from-behind win against Eastside Saturday, and the reason why that was so impressive is because Clark showed his ability to take over a game and put his team on his back. To be sure, Newton has several players who have the capability to do this. But the versatility of Clark’s game has been on full display lately. He played well in the last meeting, scoring 14 points and joining three other Newton players in double figures. But he should be playing with full-on confidence, fresh off his commitment to VCU. 

Tre Clark
Tre Clark goes up for a reverse layup in Saturday's Newton win over Eastside. Clark will carry an increased sense of confidence into tonight's game with second-ranked Grayson. -photo by Anthony Banks

2. What’s that matchup in the paint going to be like? If you watched the last game between these two teams, you know that 6-foot-7 power forward, Armani Harris and 6-foot-6 Grayson forward, Kenyon Jackson had some intense tussles down low. The thing I liked about it is while they were intense, it wasn’t disrespectful. There was some banging and some jawing. But when the dust settled, the two dapped each other up and hugged in a mutual show of respect. Both are athletic big men in their own right. Harris has several of D-1 offers and Jackson is a Texas A&M football signee as a wide receiver. Harris had 18 points and 16 rebounds in the first matchup. Expect a similar effort from him tonight.

3. Which defense will make the crucial clutch stops? When both teams have shooters and scorers littered all throughout the court, it’s not wrong to set your eyes on defense to see who can clamp down who more efficiently. In addition to Harris and Clark, Tyrease Brown and Shawn Smith can turn on their shooter and scorer switch at any time. For Grayson, 4-star prospect Deivon Smith is listed as a point guard, but he has shooting guard tendencies. 6-foot-5 Reco Hallmon is a scoring force to be reckoned with too, and can create some matchup problems with his size. So which defense will come to play tonight? Who will step up to make the crucial big-time stops against the other team’s big-time playmakers?