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PREP BASKETBALL: Archer snaps Lady Rams' winning streak
PREP BASKETBALL: Archer snaps Lady Rams' winning streak
After reeling off five wins in a row, senior Tijunna Freeman and the Newton Lady Rams closed out the regular season with a 50-46 loss to Archer on Friday. - photo by Mason Wittner

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — With seeding for the upcoming Region 8-AAAAAAA tournament on the line, the Newton High School girls’ basketball team hit the road Friday night to close out its regular season against Archer High School.

The Lady Rams came into the matchup looking to avenge a 22-point loss to the Lady Tigers suffered on Jan. 10. If they could find a way to close the cap and spoil Archer’s Senior Night, they’d automatically set themselves up with the No. 2 seed for the region tournament.

Newton put up a valiant fight, but Archer ultimately prevailed by making fewer mistakes down the stretch to battle out a 50-46 victory. The decision snapped a five-game winning streak for the Lady Rams (16-9; 6-4), while serving as the third consecutive victory for the Lady Tigers (15-9; 6-4).

With key players healthy and back in the lineup, Newton head coach Tiffani Johnson believed her squad showed notable improvement between the two contests against Archer. Unfortunately, she noted, mental miscues proved to be the difference in a game that remained a back-and-forth affair down to the final minute of regulation.

“We had been playing better up to this point, so we didn’t ever expect it to be a blowout,” Johnson said. “But we just didn’t make the layups and the free throws, and didn’t do the small things [Friday] to help us get the game.”

The first three quarters of action were a toss-up. After going into the break knotted up at 24 points apiece, Newton only managed to slightly pull ahead at 37-35 when the final third-quarter buzzer sounded.

The Lady Rams clung to a 46-45 lead with 2:13 left to play in the fourth quarter before the Lady Tigers drew a foul and evened the score at the charity stripe. Less than a minute later, Newton coughed up the basketball and allowed Archer freshman Ashanti Bryant to coast in for a go-ahead layup.

Newton had the opportunity to tie or take the lead on its next trip down the court, but another turnover led to a pair of free throws from junior Cazia Nelson. Those shots made it a four-point game, effectively sealing the Lady Rams’ fate.

Senior Tijunna Freeman led the way offensively for Newton by pouring in a team-high 16 points. She was joined in double figures by fellow senior Ashanti Wright, who knocked down a pair of shots from beyond the arc on the way to finishing with 11.

The loss, coupled with Rockdale County’s narrow defeat at Grayson on Friday, jumbled up the standings. Grayson (17-8; 9-1) remains the top team in the league, but Newton is now even with Archer and Rockdale County at 6-4 in region play.

Having swept Newton and split with Rockdale County this season, Archer will presumably enter the Region 8 tournament as the No. 2 seed. Newton will be No. 3 thanks to a clean sweep of Rockdale County, while the Lady Bulldogs will come in at the No. 4 spot.

The teams will travel to Shiloh High School in Snellville to compete for a region title and a chance to earn a state tournament berth. The official dates and times for the games have not yet been released.

Regardless of where her club is seeded or who they draw in the first round, Johnson believes the key to the Lady Rams’ success will be simple — teamwork.

“Honestly, just play as a team,” she said. “Not turn the ball over, make the easy buckets and the free throws. I want to see us communicate with one another and play with a little more heart.”