MABLETON, Ga. — Newton’s promising season drew to a close inside Kay Jackson Gymnasium on Saturday night.
On the road facing top-seeded Pebblebrook in the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs, the No. 2 seed Rams had their hands full for four quarters. Ultimately, an early hole proved too deep to dig out of as the Falcons collected an 87-59 victory to advance to the Elite Eight.
“First of all, congratulations and hat’s off to Pebblebrook. They’ve got an excellent team,” Newton head coach Charlemagne Gibbons said. “I thought you saw a team [in Pebblebrook] that was built for these playoffs. They had good depth, and they’re really excellent at shooting the basketball.”
The Falcons wasted little time before showcasing their lethal scoring ability.
A physical defensive approach and high-percentage shots on the offensive end helped Pebblebrook build up a 14-3 lead less than three minutes into the game. The Rams eventually settled in, trimming their deficit to single digits before junior T.J. Clark closed out the quarter with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that left them trailing 23-17.
But the Falcons quickly returned to form in the second quarter.
Pebblebrook picked the Newton defense apart methodically, slicing and dicing its way to a 43-24 advantage at halftime.
“I thought they got us on our heels right out of the gate,” Gibbons admitted, “and it was just hard from there.”
The second half provided more of the same for both clubs as the Falcons maintained a 61-45 lead through three quarters before cranking up the dial in the fourth to pull away with the 28-point victory.
Clark finished with a game-high 32 points. Fellow Ram Qua Brown, a sophomore, followed with 13 points, while sophomore Stephon Castle added 12.
“I was very proud of our guys,” Gibbons said. “This is tough for a young team with the expectation that we have for them. We didn’t come over here trying to play close. We came over here trying to win a basketball game. That never changes.”
The Rams rolled out a starting lineup Saturday night that consisted of three sophomores and two juniors. Being eliminated in the Sweet 16 was certainly never the goal for this squad, but it’s apparent that the future is bright on 1 Ram Way.
“It’s exciting, and you should be excited for the future, but we have a lot of work to do,” Gibbons said. “We’re talented, there’s no doubt, but we have a lot of work to do. We look forward to the future of this program and putting ourselves into the conversation of being one of the top two or three programs in the state next year.”
Pebblebrook will host fellow No. 1 seed North Gwinnett in the state quarterfinals this week. The Bulldogs advanced to the Elite Eight by grinding out a 38-37 win over No. 3 Norcross on Saturday.