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PREP BASKETBALL: Newton powers past Grayson in matchup of top-5 teams
HagansDunk
Ashton Hagans throws down a one-handed slam moments after catching the rebound from his previous shot that had been blocked. It was one of a handful of impressive moments from the Newton guard in the Rams' win over No. 5 Grayson Tuesday night. - photo by Anthony Banks

LOGANVILLE, Ga. — Tuesday night’s 'Battle of the Rams Part Two' went the way of the Rams from Covington. 

In what was billed to be can’t-miss high school basketball, the No. 3 Newton Rams dispatched the No. 5 Grayson Rams 71-69, although if not for a late-game Grayson flurry fueled by some uncharacteristic Newton turnovers, it wouldn’t have been that close. 

You can talk about how dominant Newton point guard Ashton Hagans was on both sides of the floor. If you choose to do so, you may point to plays like when he caught his own blocked shot in the second quarter, sliced past a pair of Grayson defenders and threw down a one-handed slam all in one motion. 

Or perhaps you’d rather start with how Hagans chased down Grayson’s D.J. Williams on a fast break and pinned his would-be layup to the glass. Hagans finished with a game-high 19 points, and probably at least a dozen assists. 

You could also make mention of how Newton’s defense limited Grayson guard Nick Edwards to just 13 points, utilizing a variety of schemes such as a box-and-one and a 2-3 zone to keep Edwards off rhythm. 

But the key to Newton’s win Tuesday night may be boiled down to something much more simplistic — free throws. Quite simply put: The Newton Rams made them and the Grayson Rams did not. 

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Newton's Armani Harris throws down two of his 14 points Tuesday night against Grayson. - photo by Anthony Banks

Newton went 15-for-16 from the charity stripe while Grayson was barely over 50 percent, making 14 of 26 from the line. You don’t need to be Pythagoras to be able to calculate how detrimental 12 missed free throws is to a team that loses a game by two points. 

When Newton coach Rick Rasmussen looked back on the performance, particularly from the free throw line, he certainly didn’t seem surprised at his team’s foul-shooting excellence. 

“We’ve done it all year long,” Rasmussen said, quite matter-of-factly. “We shoot over 75 percent from the free throw line all season. It’s the best free throw shooting team I’ve ever had. We’ve done it all year. We had maybe one bad game.” 

It was that excellent free throw shooting that helped Newton stave off a miniature Grayson run late in the game after Newton had build a 67-54 lead at the 2:23 mark of the fourth quarter. 

What followed were four Newton turnovers in five possessions and a missed layup by Tyler Glover at point-blank range that helped Grayson reel off 10 straight points to pull the game to within three points with less than 30 seconds remaining. 

“We tried to get in the way of it in the last minute,” Rasmussen said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. That was about the sloppiest we’ve been for a one-minute span all season long, and we’re a lot better than that. We made it look like a closer game than it was, and then all of a sudden it was a game.” 

Tyrease Brown and Hagans got it together in the end, finally finding away to not turn the ball over against Grayson’s press and then knocking down four clutch free throws to salt the game away. 

Newton improved to to 18-3 and 5-1 in Region 8-AAAAAAA. Rasmussen’s bunch now sits alone atop the region standings with home games against South Gwinnett and Rockdale on Thursday and Friday and road games at Shiloh and Archer next week before hosting the region tournament which begins February 9. 

“We control our own destiny now,” Rasmussen said. “(Grayson) know longer does that. If we win out we’ll get the No. 1 seed and host the region tournament at home, so that’s a good recipe. But here, it’s one game at a time. We can’t get big in the head.” 

Armani Harris, the only other Newton scorer to reach double figures, finished with 19 points, while Grayson’s Williams had a team-high 18 points and Nick Edwards chipped in with 13.

On the Record

Rasmussen on the dynamic game from Ashton Hagans: “I thought he was super aggressive going to the basket, and unless they’re calling charges or push-offs on him, nobody can stay in front of him. He did a great job of attacking the rim. 

On how the bench helped with Dre Butler being in foul trouble: “Everybody there played well for us. Juwan Johnson (eight points) gave us a good spark. Tyler Glover did what he does. He made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes toward the end, but I thought they all played well. 

On corralling the backcourt duo of Edwards and Deivon Smith: “Travis Anderson isn’t playing right now for them. I think he had a finger injury, but defensively, we were keying on (Edwards) and (Smith), the guards. They hurt us early with some drives and penetration, but the 2-3 zone helped because we had two guys doubling at the top, and it was hard from them to drive down the middle. That was the idea there.”

On what went wrong in the final minute: “We just need to do a better job at ball security and killing the clock. Actually we weren’t really trying to stall at the end. I thought we should’ve went for a few more buckets, actually. And then, of course, Tyler (Glover) missed a bunny there, and then all of a sudden it adds up.”

Lady Rams turn in business-like performance 

The fourth-ranked Newton Lady Rams overcame some early sloppiness — namely six first-quarter turnovers — to push past Grayson 55-43 Tuesday night. Four Newton players scored in double figures, including senior guard Lexii Chatman and junior Jada Franklin who led the team with 13 points apiece. 

Erianna Card added 12 and and Jurnee Smith chipped in 10 as the Lady Rams won their sixth straight game in a run that includes 14 victories in the last 15 contests. Grayson’s Bianca Fizoutay had a game-high 17 points. 

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Newton's Erianna Card shoots for two of her 12 points in the fourth-ranked Lady Rams' Tuesday night win over Grayson. - photo by Anthony Banks

With the win, Newton improved to 17-2 overall and 6-0 in region play, setting themselves up for a major region showdown Thursday night when it hosts South Gwinnett (18-1, 5-1). The Lady Comets’ only loss this season came at the hands of Newton, which handed them a 61-58 loss at home back on Dec. 1. Another Newton win will shore up sole possession of first place in the region standings. 

Tipoff for Thursday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m.