COVINGTON, Ga. - The Newton Rams took the lead early against the Alcovy Tigers in front of a packed crowd on Friday night and never looked back in their 76-60 victory.
The Rams 12-2 run to start the game, which began with a 3-pointer from Shawn Smith and was highlighted by a huge dunk from Caleb Byrd, was the start they needed to lead comfortably from start to finish.
The Tigers would close the gap in the middle stages of the first quarter and pull within three, but Smith would quickly respond and hit another three, bringing the team's lead to 15-9, and the Rams would just build on their lead over the course of the ball game.
The first quarter ended with the Rams leading the Tigers 22-13, and they would only build on that margin for the remainder of the game. The Rams were highlighted by five guys reaching double digits, with Caleb Byrd leading the way with 19 points.
Following Byrd's excellent night, the Rams other leading scorers were T.J. Clark with 14 points, Qua Brown with 11 points, Shawn Smith with 10 points and Jordan Marshall with 10 points as well. Rams head coach Charlemagne Gibbons is always happy to have multiple guys having impressive nights, and with five reaching double digits, tonight was no different.
"It is great. These guys are all slotted in different areas, so you're trying to preach to them that as you continue to play your role changes, but I think you're starting to see these guys show everyone who they are," Gibbons said. "It's kind of exciting for a coach because this is a pretty young group, so you're pretty excited about that."
On the flip side, the Tigers only had one scorer reach the double-digit mark and they were highlighted by excellent play from Dylan Driver, who finished with 17 points and was consistently reliable from start to finish.
Tigers head coach Mack Hardwick has been exceptionally pleased with Driver as of late, and his excellent play and even went as far as to name him as the guy that has most improved as the season has progressed.
"Dylan is quiet and doesn't say much, but he started the season in a slump, but I like how he's improved without talking," Hardwick said. "He's very coachable, very respectable, he goes hard after rebounds, and he fights hard just to score, so overall, I'm very proud of his tenaciousness."
Hardwick said that even after this tough loss, the message to his team is that they have to make sure they stick to what they do and that tonight was not indicative of what they can do. He wants to see his guys do a better job of fighting through adversity as well.
With highlight plays coming from both teams throughout the course of the night, the atmosphere at Newton High School on Friday night was next level, which was what Gibbons said drew him to the job.
"I came to Newton because I love that atmosphere. I came here because I expect for our fans to turn out and have that atmosphere each time we touch the floor," Gibbons said. "As our fans come back and have been loud, I expect the same thing tomorrow."
Gibbons expects the same thing tomorrow with Eastside rolling into town riding a nine-game winning streak, and knows that his guys have to wipe away this win and get ready for their next game.
"It's the same game plan, just a new opponent. Keep your emotions straight, protect your house, play together as a team, share the basketball and then do whatever it takes to get the win," Gibbons said. "Is Eastside a really good opponent? Absolutely. They have a really great team, but is our gameplan going to be different? No."
The Rams will tip-off against their county rivals the No. 3 Eastside Eagles on Saturday, Dec. 21 in what should be another wild atmosphere and a packed house with two of the state's best teams facing each other.