COVINGTON,Ga. - For the second straight night, the Newton Rams defended their home court against a county rival and won by double digits as they defeated the Eastside Eagles 72-62.
The effort of the Eagles was apparent all night long, but they could never breakthrough and take the lead from the Rams despite a few strong runs in the late stages of the game.
Despite the Eagles strong efforts, the most important run came in the final minutes as the Rams closed out strong and finished the game on a 12-2 run.
Rams head coach Charlemagne Gibbons seemed especially pleased with his team's performance on the evening and how his team was able to hold off the Eagles at the end.
"They have a good team, so they're always going to make runs," Gibbons said. "We just hope that our runs our bigger and we can make their runs shorter. I think some of the runs are attributed to us. We helped them with some runs with some bad shots."
Gibbons continued this statement by saying that despite the team victory, the message in the locker room to his guys after the game was that they have to play the game as a team for the full 32 minutes.
"I thought that we had them right there on the cliff, and we didn't put them away because we were trying to do some more 'me' and not about our team, and that's the conversation we just had in the locker room," Gibbons said. "We have to be better about that because when you talk about beating some of the best teams in the country in AAAAAAA basketball, you can't be up 10 and think all of a sudden it's a one-on-one show."
For the Rams, it was senior guard Caleb Byrd leading the way with an outstanding 30-point night. Byrd was feeling very pleased with his performance, and he showed why he is one of the best scorers in the area.
"It was great, just letting the game come to me, and it flew through me today," Byrd said. "We just played really good defense, so we got a lot of transition points."
Gibbons complimented Byrd's outstanding scoring ability by saying it takes "a man and a half" to guard him, which means he always has the focus of multiple defenders. This opens up the opportunity for the Rams to get other scorers involved and creates quite the conundrum on defense for the opposition.
As for the Rams defense, they did a stellar job of containing one of the Eagles best players as they held Myles Rice to just 13 points. Gibbons knew that stopping Rice would be a tough task, but was pleased with how his team performed against the Eagles elite guard.
"He's a good player, so we didn't think we would stop him, we just tried to wear him down," Gibbons said. "I thought we had moments that we have a chance to wear him down, and I think there were moments where we weren't as good, and he showed us the caliber of player that he is."
Like Byrd, Rice garners a ton of attention from opposing defenses, and that oftentimes opens up the scoring potential for other players. That was the case for senior guard Darrell Duncombe, who led the Eagles with 24 points.
Eagles head coach Michael Gerald was happy with the efforts of his team as a whole but especially ecstatic of Duncombe's breakout performance.
"We always knew that he had that type of ability, and he just plays so hard," Gerald said. "He's just going to get better and still learning what we do defensively, but just proud of his effort. He made some clutch shots and did a lot of good stuff."
With Duncombe leading the charge for the Eagles guards, it was Chauncey Wiggins having yet another strong night in the paint for the Eagles. Wiggins finished one rebound shy of a double-double and had 11 points on the night.
Gerald believes this was one of Wiggins's strongest performances to date but wants some more help from his frontcourt.
"I thought he had a big night rebounding. He's starting to really get it," Gerald said. "We just need a few more people to step up there."
Gerald said after that, he was not upset with his guys at all and agreed with the sentiment that this type of game could be a great teaching moment for his group. The Eagles head coach seemed focused on getting back on track and getting his guys back on the winning side of things.
"Not upset with the guys at all, this group this season, I knew that there would never be a lack of fighting at all and I'm proud of the effort," Gerald said. "This game does not define the type of season that we can have. We'll see them down the road, but we won't think about them anymore. We'll get through this tournament injury-free and get ready for our region. If we can do that, then I think we'll be in a good spot."
The Eagles will look to get back on track on Friday, Dec. 27, as they face Redan, a team they defeated 68-48 to start their season, in the Woodland Christmas Tournament.
The Rams will be back in action on Thursday, Dec. 26 in the Dwight Madison Classic in Montogomery, Alabama.