Foul line struggles ended the Newton Rams' run for a region title Tuesday night, as Newton fell 50-46 to Luella at home in the finals of the Region 2-AAAAAA tournament.
Newton led 40-36 with 5:52 remaining, but the Lions went to the charity stripe 14 times in the fourth quarter, converting 12 free throws to end the Rams’ magic after coming back from a fourth-quarter deficit Monday night against Lovejoy.
While the Rams struggled from the line, shooting just 50 percent for the night, Luella flourished late in the contest, earning the region’s No. 1 seed heading into this weekend’s state tournament.
Darvin Jones led Newton with 11 points and Jalen Glover and D.J. Hill added nine each, but Newton’s fourth-quarter comeback bid fell just short in the Rams' third battle with the Lions.
“We have a lot of heart and we showed that we’ll never quit,” Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. “I’m proud of the effort. If we had made a few more free throws, we could have won the game.”
With the Rams trailing 36-31 in the fourth quarter, Newton connected with three consecutive 3-pointers, one from Jones and a pair from Glover, to take a 40-36 lead.
Newton’s four-point advantage was its largest of the period, as Luella chipped away at the Rams’ lead over the final six minutes.
Luella pulled within one of the Rams with five free throws, including four from TeMarcus Blanton, and retook the lead with 2:47 to go on another pair of Blanton free throws.
The Lions pushed their lead to 45-42 with just over two minutes to go, and the Rams had a chance to tie the contest again, but Hill’s pass to the corner to Jones for an open 3-pointer was tipped and Luella ended up with the loose ball.
A Blanton basket extended Luella’s lead to 47-42, but Newton’s Tarik Rogers hit an open jumper, bringing Newton back to within three with 47 seconds to go. On the ensuing possession, Luella’s B.J. McNeal turned the ball over and Glover had an opportunity to even the score on a 3-pointer from the left wing. But his shot rolled out and into the hands of a Luella defender.
The Lions went 3-of-4 from the line in the final seconds, sealing the win.
Newton shot just 30 percent from the field in the second half, tallying eight points in the third quarter. The Rams led at halftime 23-19, but the Lions outscored Newton 14-8 in the third. With Luella leading 26-24, Taylor Hawkins tied the game on a baseline drive on an in-bounds pass, pushing Newton ahead with a free throw after the made basket.
Luella ended the third period on a 5-0 run, however, scoring three times from the line while adding a Kylin Terrell layup.
Newton and the Lions traded baskets in the opening period, and the Rams took a slim 10-7 lead into the second quarter.
The Rams rallied in the second quarter behind seven points from Hill, using an 8-2 run to take a 23-19 lead into halftime.
Blanton led the Lions with 15 points, while center Doral Moore finished with five.
With the loss, the Rams will face the No. 3 seed in Region 4-AAAAAA. Region 4 seedings have not yet been set, with championship games set to be played Wednesday.
Rasmussen said that despite coming out on the short end, he was proud of the effort the Rams and Lions brought to the title game.
“It was a great game,” Rasmussen said. “My hat’s off to them (Luella).”
The Rams return to action Saturday in the first round of the state tournament at home.