The stakes were as high as regular season basketball stakes come. With a win, Newton would own the tiebreaker over Tucker and would need to win out to claim the No. 1 seed in 2-AAAAAA earning the Rams’ first win over the Tigers since the Rams welcomed them to Region 2-AAAAAA and with a loss the Rams chances at claiming the No. 1 seed were gone.
After Tucker took an early lead in the game, Newton responded, woke up and never trailed again, as the Rams claimed the 58-48 victory, tying Tucker for the No. 1 seed in 2-AAAAAA.
When asked about the win, Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said, “Well, it’s big.”
An energized Tucker team jolted off to a quick 9-2 lead. Outside of JD Notae, who scored Newton’s first eight points, the Rams struggled at the rim, but were able to pull within one after another score by Notae (9-8).
“I wasn’t really worried about the start. We don’t usually call a timeout early. I thought we played through that, we just came out and missed a couple shots. ‘Quan had a great look to start the game from three though, so it’s alright,” Rasmussen said.
Tucker responded to go up by three, but Chaz Tanner and Jaquan Simms made jumpers to spark a 5-0 run to end the quarter. That 5-0 run turned into a 15-2 run as Newton’s offense got going in the second, starting with a nasty crossover and stepback three from freshman Ashton Hagans with some highlight plays by Simms in-between.
“I thought our offense got going. We started slow,” Rasmussen said. “I thought our defense was good the entire game, that was the best communication we’ve had on defense. We didn’t give up many open shots and we battled hard for loose balls. We’ve lost [DeAndrae Butler] and we’re down as a rebounding team – he was our leading rebounder – but I thought we scrapped and clawed and got a lot of loose balls, got some loose ball calls because we were the first ones to the ball.”
Hagans’ reverse layup with three Tucker defenders chasing him made it 25-14, Newton. Tyler Payne would get a steal and score for the Tigers’ second-straight score to beat the buzzer as Newton went into the half up 25-18.
Tucker trimmed the lead to six (28-22) in the opening minutes of the second half. After the Tigers got within four, Simms went on a 8-0 run for Newton starting with a stepback three, then another triple and finishing by hitting 2-3 free throws after being fouled behind the line.
Newton’s offense was doing damage with Notae sitting and the Rams led 38-30 after three. Hagans was playing excellent full-court man-to-man defense denying the ball against Tucker’s best player, junior Kenton Eskridge, who finished with just 10 points.
“Yeah, that was the game plan. Ashton’s very long, he’s very strong, he’s very physical and athletic. He was up to the challenge and that was a big part of it,” Rasmussen said.
Dante Johnson was big for the Rams late in the game, he knocked down some big free throws to hold off a Tucker comeback, scoring six points in the fourth.
Notae led all scorers with 22 points and his partner-in-crime, Simms scored 16.