Newton boys' basketball traveled west on I-20 on Monday to play Valdosta at Philips Arena. The Rams survived a late scare from Valdosta, topping the Wildcats 72-63.
Fresh off a big win against Cedar Shoals, Newton came out firing on all cylinders. Ashton Hagans opened with a steal and score followed by another steal and a dunk for Jaquan Simms.
After a Valdosta basket, Newton’s full-court trap led to another turnover that JD Notae turned into a two-handed flush. Despite the Wildcats’ sloppy play early, a three-pointer from Brandon Sharper tied the game at 6-6.
Newton’s shooters were able to help spread the floor against Valdosta’s 2-3 zone but couldn't connect on a few open looks, a trend that continued throughout the game. Simms was able to get a steal and added another dunk to put Newton up 8-6.
Hagans drove to the hole and connected on a layup that drew a foul, but he missed the free throw and the Rams led 15-8 toward the end of the first, but a 4-0 run by the Wildcats would bring them within three as the first period ended. Simms hit Kolby Rogers with a pass and Rogers connected on a layup for Newton’s first basket of the second quarter.
The Rams extended their lead to 11 after a basket from Notae. At halftime the Rams held a 28-20 lead that would've been higher had they been able to connect from three on some of their open looks, as they were 0-9 from deep on the Hawks’ home court.
Notae scored the Rams’ first six points, putting them up 34-20, to begin the third. The Wildcats had no answer for Newton’s size and length. The Rams lead bloomed to 17 after Hagans scored due to defensive goaltending.
“I thought the combination of Ashton and JD was really, really good all game. Other than a few silly turnovers. I thought that Ashton did a great job of finding JD in transition. I thought that the two of them played extremely well,”
A tip-in from Chaz Tanner gave Newton a 20-point cushion at the halfway mark of the third.
A 3 at the buzzer from John Slater brought the Wildcats within 18 as the quarter ended while Newton played most of the remaining minutes of the third with bench guys.
“We got after ‘em a little bit,” Rasmussen said. “I just thought we quit settling for jumpers. You’re not used to the backdrop and there’s a depth perception thing with the black backboard and so you just gotta quit jacking jumpers and go to the rim. I just thought we decided to go to the rim and get serious and I thought that paid off.”
The Rams struggled from deep, making just two 3s the entire game, but they got into the paint, where the majority of their field goals came from and scored. A triple from Sharper cut it to 15 and the Ram starters checked back in with 7:22 to play.
The Wildcats full-court trap helped them get within 13 with 5:49 left. Hagans found Notae wide open to get the lead back to 15 before Josh Tukes found a cutting Tanner for the easy basket to go up 17.
Newton looked to be back in complete control as Rasmussen rested four of his starters with Notae on the floor, but a basket from Sharper cut the lead to 10 and a steal plus free throws made it an eight-point game.
Four starters came back in with Notae, and Hagans immediately got to the line and hit one of two to get the lead to nine.
Notae would foul out with 44 seconds left and Dante Johnson came in with the Rams up 10. Slater earned a steal and connected from deep to make it a six-point game with 31.5 seconds remaining.
Hagans got fouled and went 2-2 at the line. The Rams withstood the late charge by Valdosta in a 72-63 win.
Rasmussen got his bench valuable minutes, but wasn’t pleased with their performance.
“I thought it was good experience for the reserves. I’m glad they got to play, but they didn’t play well. Starters played a lot better than the reserves,” Rasmussen said.
Notae led Newton with 23 points and Hagans was right behind him with 16 points.