When the Newton boys’ basketball team went through its four game losing streak at the beginning of January, things took a bleak turn for the Rams.

However, fast forward through the last three weeks of 2013’s first month and things have taken a 180-degree turn. Thanks to a big win Tuesday, Newton is now just one game out of first place and grouped in with four other Region 2-AAAAAA teams with five wins.

After winning four in a row, two coming in overtime on the road, Newton traveled to Luella for a 55-44 win over the region’s first-place team.

“Obviously, it was a big win for us; they were in first place,” Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. “It was good for momentum, because we’re trying to peak at the right time and winning five in a row is a good start.”

The Rams have three regular season games left before entering the region tournament, in which just the top-seeded team gets a first-round bye and automatic entry into the state tournament.

Those three games won’t be easy for the Rams as two of them are against fellow five-win teams starting today with Rockdale, and the last, Druid Hills, is just two games back in the region standings.

Rockdale defeated Newton the first time the two teams met, 65-50 at Rockdale on Jan. 8, a result Rasmussen feels the Rams can overcome. Rockdale’s long-range shooting was going well in the first matchup and Newton was in the midst of its skid.

Now Newton’s mantra is to play stronger the second time out, something it has proven with wins over Lovejoy and Luella, which defeated the Rams earlier this season.

“We preach the second time you play someone is the most important because it’s closer to end of the season,” Rasmussen said. “If you ask me which one I’d rather win, it will always be the second one.”

To win the second time around at Rockdale, Rasmussen said his team will need to slow down Rockdale’s top shooters, by not only getting in their faces on defense but also limiting the Bulldog’s offensive possessions. To do that, Newton needs to both take and make quality shots.

“I think if we try to take good shots, that would limit their chances to run,” Rasmussen said of the Bulldogs. “If you take better shots and make more shots, that’s a part of it, and then to get back in transition and find their shooters.”

Making better shots has been something Newton has been successful at lately, as its offensive production has gone up with three 50-plus point games in its last four contests.

The shots came a little easier against Luella, thanks to the Rams forcing 21 turnovers, while only committing seven themselves. That translated into 15 points for D.J. Hill and 17 for Jalen Glover.

Hill also had six rebounds and three steals, and shot 6 of 9 from the field and 3 of 4 from the free-throw line.

“D.J. had a great game,” Rasmussen said. “I thought he did a good job going against their senior point guard.”

Glover added five rebounds, and had a big first half offensively, while Kishon Rogers, who has come on for Newton lately, grabbed seven rebounds and came up with big shots in the fourth quarter. The Rams tied Luella with 26 rebounds apiece but limited the Lions to five offensive rebounds, something that will be a key in tonight’s home matchup against the Bulldogs.

“We have a good chance,” Rasmussen said. “We’re playing well, but we have to slow up their 3-point shooters.”