COVINGTON, Ga. — It was smooth sailing Newton in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs Wednesday night.
The No. 2 seed Rams welcomed third-seeded Colquitt County to their home gym and made quick work of the Packers, rolling to an 82-32 victory.
After being held off the scoresheet in the opening quarter, junior T.J. Clark caught fire in the second. He went on to pour in a game-high 23 points despite sitting for the majority of the final period. Clark was joined in double figures by sophomore Marcus “M.J.” Whitlock, who finished with 19 points.
Clark and Whitlock led the way, but Newton’s offensive potency can be attributed to a team effort. By night’s end, 11 different Rams found the bottom of the net.
What ended as a high-scoring affair began as a lethargic chess match as both teams stumbled out of the gate. Newton knocked down just two shots in the first three minutes of action, slowly working its way to an 11-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“We’re in Georgia. This is some of the top basketball in the country, and this is the top classification, so the intensity level is very high,” Newton head coach Charlemagne Gibbons said. “I thought for the first quarter of the game we were trying to gauge that intensity a little bit. My hat’s off to Colquitt; they played as hard as possible.”
The Rams began to pick up the tempo in the second quarter. Following a pair of free throws from Whitlock, Clark exploded for the Rams’ next seven points to push the lead out to double figures. Whitlock bookended the run with a 3-point jumper, giving his club a 22-9 advantage at the 5:05 mark.
Newton continued to keep Colquitt County at a comfortable distance, but the team’s tempo took a hit as the quarter played out. By the 3:33 mark in the period, Gibbons had seen enough.
With the Rams holding a 14-point lead, the Newton head coach called timeout. He provided his team with words of instruction and critique, imploring them to display more energy on the court.
Newton responded by closing the half on a 17-6 run to take a 42-17 lead into the break.
“One of your responsibilities as a player is to come and play hard, play with energy and play as a team. That’s one of the things that I thought we were lacking was energy,” Gibbons said. “I don’t like to have to do that, to remind them to show the energy, but I will do that by any means necessary at this point.”
Gibbons’ message was received loud and clear. The Rams outscored the Packers 22-8 in the third quarter and 18-7 in the fourth en route to collecting a 50-point victory.
Newton will hit the road for the second round of the tournament to face top-seeded Pebblebrook, which soundly defeated No. 4 North Cobb, 84-45, on Wednesday night. The Sweet 16 contest will take place either Friday, Feb. 26, or Saturday, Feb. 27.