Ahmad Rand’s near triple-double helps No. 10 Lincoln County survive GMC

No. 10 Lincoln County 61, Georgia Military 54

Coming off of its biggest win in school history, a 61-59 upset of No. 1 Hancock Central, No. 10 Lincoln County (14-5, 7-3) had won two straight games entering Saturday’s rematch with Georgia Military (10-7, 5-3), who had beaten the Red Devils 75-68 in overtime two weeks prior. With region seeding on the line heading into the Region 7-A tournament, upstart Lincoln County was looking to ride its momentum to another important victory. They did so, using an explosive first quarter to hold on 61-54 in Lincolnton.

The Red Devils came out and punched the Bulldogs in the mouth, opening up a quick 7-0 lead before Head Coach James Lunsford burned his first timeout. Just 55 seconds later, Lunsford called his second as Lincoln County led 9-2 after a Zach Crite And-1 at the 6:02 mark. Sophomore point guard Maciah Gunby tacked on Lincoln County’s third And-1 of the first quarter to go up 16-2, but he would later pick up back-to-back charge calls, sending him to the bench with three fouls in the first quarter.

Georgia Military’s Luke Lawson entered the game third in the state in scoring at 25.7 points per game. The free shooting guard got his first hoop with 2:32 left in the opening quarter to make it 20-5, but he would not score again as Zae Gartrell shut him out the rest of the way.

The first quarter ended with the Red Devils in control 23-8. With Gartrell locking up Lawson on the perimeter, it was Ahmad Rand patrolling the paint. The 6-foot-7 junior has been deemed as the ‘best kept secret’ in Georgia, but won’t be much longer. He finished the night with 10 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks to stifle GMC. Halfway through the second quarter Lincoln County was cruising up 31-8, but Coach Lunsford’s Bulldogs began to claw back.

An 8-0 run cut the lead to 31-16 before Rand found Crite in the corner for three. The Red Devils took a 35-21 advantage into the half, but since trailing 18-3 to open the game, the Bulldogs had outscored Lincoln County 18-17.

The Bulldogs canned three three-pointers in the second quarter and 6-foot-6 senior Alex Moss began to go to work inside, finishing with eight first half points to breathe life into GMC. With Gunby on the bench, Coach Wesley Wuchte’s main ball handler, Ty Elam stepped in. The dreaded 5-foot-10 guard scored seven of his 15 points in the first half to keep the Devils in front.

In the third quarter, Von Holloway started making things happen in the high post. He caught and looked diagonal, hitting a cutting Javon Reid for two.

Then he took it himself and drew his second And-1 opportunity on his way to finishing with eight points and six rebounds.

Late in the third quarter, Rand continued his block party, picking up his seventh swat of the day before Lincoln County entered the final frame with a commanding 49-31 lead.

Things soured for Lincoln County in the fourth. Moss began to take over, playing the passing lanes to pick off a pass and score two of his game-high 23 points, 13 which came in the final eight minutes.

The onslaught was on as the Red Devils tried to weather the storm which came in the form of Moss, Malik Foston and the Bulldog press. Foston drilled four threes and finished with 15 points and five steals, keying the GMC pressure. With 2:37 remaining, Lincoln County held a 57-42 advantage but the lead did not feel safe, especially after Rand had to come out of the game after cutting his hand on the rim while blocking a shot.

With under two minutes to play, GMC sliced the deficit to 11 points. Feeling the heat and the momentum all in the visiting Bulldogs’ corner, Coach Wuchte turned to Rand, now heavily bandaged, to re-enter the game but upon subbing in the referees would not allow him back on the court due to a drop of blood on his shorts. Wuchte in disbelief hurried Rand back into the locker room to change shorts with a teammate. With 30 more crucial seconds off the clock with Rand not on the floor, the Bulldogs brought the game within single digits at 57-48 with 1:15 left, the closest they had been since the first three minutes of the first quarter.

Things continued to meltdown even with Rand back on the floor, as the Red Devils brain cramped and allowed GMC to throw the ball over their heads on a made basket for a wide open layup which was goaltended by Rand at the last second, making it 57-50 with 41.9 seconds to play, a frantic 14-4 run.

Gunby was sent to the line and sank both free throws. The Bulldogs would never climb any closer than a seven-point deficit as the Red Devils survived the late rally which saw the Bulldogs outscore Lincoln County 23-12 in the fourth quarter.

My Take: Lincoln County is not a team people are going to want to face in the state tournament. Class A-Public goes by the flawed “Power Ranking” system introduced by the GHSA, so it will be imperative for the Red Devils to do well in the region tournament to ensure they do not get shafted. Lincoln County lost back-to-back games before scoring a signature win over No. 1 Hancock Central, the Red Devils first win over the 1A-Public powerhouse in over 25 years. That momentum obviously carried over as they smoked Glascock County 82-40 on Friday and opened Saturday’s game on an 18-3 run. Zach Crite is a versatile scorer from his wing position. The senior has enough strength to barrel his way inside and also shows touch from beyond the arc. Maciah Gunby was slapped with foul trouble early but played well when he was on the floor. His two late free throws in the fourth quarter thwarted Georgia Military’s furious comeback. Von Holloway was like a bull in a china shop at times inside, showing off his football mentality when attacking the basket and going after rebounds. He needs more polish when finishing inside against contact, but he did an exceptional job of being patient working the high post and deciding whether to attack the cup or look down low for a dump off. Ahmad Rand was Ahmad Rand. The junior can’t be slept on anymore. He has come out of nowhere and exploded onto the scene with his season average of nearly a triple-double and he didn’t disappoint, flirting with another to add to his school-record, collecting 10 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks. Rand is a late bloomer and is just starting to scratch the surface of the potential he holds. Right now he is an elite rim protector. He showed a feathery touch from one foot inside the three-point line, burying a jumper. Inside, he displayed nice footwork, ducking in between defenders to score baskets. Rand is a gem in Lincolnton and could become something of a legned in the football town if he continues to put 110% into improving his game every single day. For me, the unsung heroes of the game were Zae Gartrell and Ty Elam. Elam stepped in when Gunby was saddled with three fouls and produced admirably, finishing with 15 points and four steals off the bench. Gartrell only scored two points, but his tenacious defense on Luke Lawson was spectacular, not even letting the gun slinger think about firing up shots.

Georgia Military witnessed Lawson’s worst game of the season, but in turn probably saw Alex Moss’ best game. The 6-foot-6 senior battled for 23 points and seven rebounds inside, working for every hoop he got against Rand and the Red Devil interior. He averages 11 points and 9 rebounds on the year and has been a workhorse inside all season for Coach James Lunsford. Malik Foston, a funky shooting freshman, looked good as well. He netted 15 points and picked up five steals leading the charge defensively as the Bulldogs quickly worked their way back into the game.

Top Performers

Lincoln County
Ahmad Rand – 10 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 9 blocks
Zach Crite – 16 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals
Ty Elam – 15 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals
Von Holloway – 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists
Maciah Gunby – 8 points, 1 assist

Georgia Military
Alex Moss – 23 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals
Malik Foston – 15 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 5 steals
Andrew Weimer – 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal
Luke Lawson – 2 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist
Markus Taylor – 4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals
Dustin Hostetter – 1 point, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block

No. 2 Lithonia clinches Region 6 title with win on Senior Night

No. 2 Lithonia 56, No. 3 St. Pius 48

It was Senior Night for the No. 2 Lithonia Bulldogs. Parents, friends, family, balloons and flowers filled the court after the girls game as all the senior basketball players and cheerleaders took to the court. It was an emotional night, but there was still work to be done. First-place in Region 6-AAAA was on the line, a region that boasts the top 2-4 ranked teams in the state. With both Lithonia (18-4, 15-1) and No. 3 St. Pius (18-4, 12-3) beating No. 4 Grady (19-3, 13-2) in their second meetings, the Bulldogs now had the inside track to winning the regular season title if they could stop St. Pius.

In a nip-and-tuck game which saw the largest lead of the first half come in the form of a 4-0 Golden Lions start, Lithonia used a big third quarter to take control and hold on for a 56-48 win, all but ensuring themselves the region title in the regular season and the No. 1 seed heading into the region tournament.

The first quarter ended knotted up at 14, but one Bulldog showed more bite than usual on the big stage. Rodney Chatman, a senior guard committed to UT-Chattanooga, hasn’t been known for his scoring, usually taking a backseat to the likes of Tyheem Freeman, Jacara Cross and Tyleen Patterson, instead working to get those teammates open looks. Friday night however, was Chatman’s time to shine.

Chatman scored nine points in the first eight minutes, but he was just getting started. Jakob Spitzer hammered in a dunk to give the Golden Lions a 14-11 lead, but Chatman drilled a three at the buzzer.

It took nearly four minutes for Lithonia to score its first points of the second quarter. Once the lid was off the basket, Freeman, who scored 16 points, hit Robert Hatchett in the corner for three to take a 20-17 lead. Forty seconds later, Kerney Lane found younger brother Everett for three to knot the game back up. Lithonia entered halftime up 24-22 with the game still in the balance.

It wasn’t for long.

Coach Wallace Corker’s Bulldogs opened the third on an 11-3 run sparked by Cross. The 6-foot-7 big man posted 18 points and 12 rebounds in their previous meeting, a 55-44 win over the Golden Lions, but through the first half on Friday, he was held scoreless with two fouls. Chatman got him going, like a good point would. He lobbed an alley-oop to Cross for his first points of the game and after a wild scramble on defense, the Bulldogs came up with the loose ball. The ball was pitched ahead to Freeman who attacked the basket and dumped the ball off behind him to a trailing Cross who collected it and flushed it home to take a 35-25 lead with 3:34 left in the third, causing Coach Aaron Parr to burn a timeout.

Twelve seconds later, Cross picked up his fourth foul when Everett Lane pump-faked him inside, sending him and momentum to the bench.

St. Pius chipped away at the lead and cut it to 35-28 after a Kerney Lane bucket, but Chatman answered yet again with a three-ball.

The Golden Lions split a pair of Spitzer free throws with 1.1 seconds left and sent themselves into the fourth quarter down 38-29.

The fourth quarter belonged to Kerney Lane as he tried to will his team back into the game. Lane scored three straight buckets for the Golden Lions, sparked by a rebound off a Spitzer missed free throw, powering the ball back up for two. With 6:03 left, St. Pius trailed 41-35. Lane scored nine of the Golden Lions’ first 10 points in the quarter, but Chatman and Freeman were too much.

Chatman scored eight of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter while Freeman netted six to his tally. Sam Petry came off the bench to hit three late three-pointers for St. Pius, but it was too little too late as the Bulldogs reigned supreme on Senior Night.

My Take: Lithonia is one of the best teams in the state, and I don’t think I’ve seen them play their best game yet. Rodney Chatman and Tyheem Freeman were sensational for Coach Corker. Chatman has played the role of distributor all season long, but showed he can fill it up when he goes in attack mode, finishing with 24 points, six rebounds and three assists. Freeman is a great running mate alongside Chatman. Jacara Cross is an immense talent inside, making things look easy at times, but he is too susceptible to foul trouble and can be taken out of his game. Lithonia has as good a chance as anyone to make a deep state playoff run and win the state title, but if they want to do that, Cross cannot pick up silly fouls and have to sit on the bench. Tyleen Patterson, Lithonia’s second option in the post, is a reliable scorer, but he picked up two dumb fouls as well that luckily didn’t cost Lithonia. Pushing a player after a Bulldog basket and then next trip down, grabbing a rebound and throwing a blatant elbow while carving out space. The little things like that might not hurt you in the regular season, but come playoff time it will be something that needs cleaned up.

St. Pius had one of its worst shooting nights of the year. The Golden Lions left 10 big points at the line, shooting just 9-of-19. Their defense was able to keep them in the game however. It was just one big 11-3 run for Lithonia in the third quarter that gave the Bulldogs enough cushion. Kerney Lane took over in the fourth quarter for the Golden Lions, but couldn’t find enough help as the Bulldogs’ physical defense made St. Pius work for every hoop. Without Sam Petry’s three late threes, the score would have been a lot worse. Outside of Petry’s shooting, the Golden Lions weren’t able to stretch out Lithonia’s defense, hitting just two three-pointers. In the first half, St. Pius proved they can play with anyone in the state and warrant the No. 3 spot in AAAA. It was a tough night to struggle from the field, but the Lions should get another crack at the Bulldogs when it matters the most, in the region tournament.

Top Performers

Rodney Chatman – 24 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
Tyheem Freeman – 16 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Tyleen Patterson – 7 points, 5 rebounds
Jacara Cross – 4 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block

St. Pius
Kerney Lane – 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Sam Petry – 9 points
Christian Merrill – 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals
Jakob Spitzer – 5 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block

Feature Photo By Mark Brock (DCSD)

Class A Region Run Down

Class A

* Denotes Private Ranking

Region 1

           Team                                       Overall            Region
No. 8 Randolph-Clay                 15-7                 11-3
     No. 7 Calhoun County               12-8                 9-3
Quitman County                       14-7                 9-4
Terrell County                           10-11               8-4
Stewart County                       11-8                   9-5
Mitchell County                      11-8                   8-5
Miller County                               3-15                   2-10
Webster County                         2-17                   2-11
  Baker County                             1-19                   0-14

The No. 8 Randolph-Clay Red Devils are powered inside by 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior Cody Brown. He is averaging 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds; team-highs. Seven players score over six points a game for Coach Kalvin Baker’s team. They beat rival and defending state champion No. 7 Calhoun County 70-63 on Dec. 12. Brown finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and seven steals in the win. The two teams meet on Feb. 6 at Calhoun County in the final game of the regular season. Sophomore Rashun Williams, Jerrek Solite and 6-foot-2, 255-pound center Jalin Gray are some of Coach Marcus Shaw’s holdovers from last year’s 30-2 Cougar team.

Region 2

              Team                                       Overall            Region
No. 4 Turner County                  17-5                 11-2
No. 6 Atkinson County          15-5                 9-4
Clinch County                             12-8                 8-4
Wilcox County                           11-9                 8-5
Telfair County                            9-11                 7-6
Irwin County                              7-9                   6-6
Lanier County                              6-14                 4-10
Echols County                            3-14                 3-10
Charlton County                       1-16                 1-11

No. 4 Turner County is hands down the hottest team in the state, winning 12 straight. Head Coach Tasha Kimble is up for Coach of the Year. She has the girls team No. 1 in the state and 22-0 with her boys team close behind. The Rebels finished 25-4 last season but started off slow under their new head coach at 5-5. Behind 6-foot-3 junior Tamarrion Terry (19.6 ppg, 12.6 rpg), Turner County is steamrolling opponents winning its last six games by an average of 34.5 points. Last Friday they stomped main competition No. 6 Atkinson County, 82-46.

Region 3

              Team                                       Overall            Region
(B) No. 3 Treutlen                         17-2                 8-0
(A) Savannah Christian            11-6                 7-3
(A) Portal                                           11-10               7-3
(B) Montgomery County         12-10               5-3
(A) Claxton                                      9-11                 5-4
(A) Woodville-Tompkins       10-10               6-6
(B) Johnson County                   7-13                 3-3
(B) Wheeler County                  6-12                 3-3
(A) Calvary Day                            7-11                 3-6
(B) ECI                                                4-12                 2-4
(A) Jenkins County                    4-16                 3-6
(A) Savannah Country Day     4-17                 2-11

No. 3 Treutlen has rolled through Region 3, taking no prisoners. The Vikings held the No. 1 ranking in the state for weeks before falling to No. 7 Calhoun County 66-51 last Saturday. After an 11-15 season last year, Savannah Christian is now 11-6 and on top of Sub-Region A, trying to hold off Portal, winner of seven straight. Star football player Demetris Robertson, a 5-star recruit, leads the Raiders with 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a night. Savannah Christian opened up the year with a 58-45 loss to Treutlen without Robertson.

Region 4

             Team                                       Overall            Region
No. 5 Taylor County                   15-6                 12-1
No. 9 Central-Talbotton         14-8                 10-3
Greenville                                       7-12                 7-5
Hawkinsville                                12-7                 7-5
St. Anne-Pacelli                          13-8                 7-6
Marion County                           11-9                 6-6
Dooly County                             7-11                 5-7
Schley County                               4-16                 2-10
Brookstone                                     4-17                 0-13

No. 5 Taylor County is in control of the region but No. 9 Central-Talbotton is making a move as the Hawks have cracked the poll for the first time this week. Senior Djimon Edge leads Central in scoring at 13.7 points per game, but sophomores Zytavian Hill and Jaquavius Smith might be the most important pieces for Coach Andrew Hall. Hill averages 12.4 points, 3.5 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals while Smith posts 11.8 points, 5.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals as a 6-foot-4 guard. Both Hawkinsville and St. Anne-Pacelli remain dangerous. The Vikings peaked at No. 4 in Class A-Private but have tumbled out of the poll after three straight losses. Hawkinsville reached as high as No. 4 as well in A-Public, but slipped to 9-7 overall before winning three in a row. Three seniors steer the Vikings’ ship. Tre Sudberry averages 22.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.6 steals for Coach Alan Griffin. Triston Wells pitches in 16.6 points while Armon Prophet fills the stat sheet with 14.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 3.8 steals per game.

Region 5

             Team                                       Overall            Region
* No. 1 Greenforest                    19-2                 8-0
* No. 3 SWAC                                 13-8                 7-1
Paideia                                               11-9                 6-1
* No. 7 Our Lady of Mercy      15-3                 6-2
Landmark Christian                   11-7                 5-3
W.D. Mohammed                        7-12                 4-3
Mt. Vernon Presbyterian       7-11                 4-4
Fulton Leadership Academy 3-12               3-5
  Drew Charter                                3-7                   2-4
ELCA                                                     3-14                 2-5
Galloway                                            5-12                 2-6
       Atlanta Int’l                                        1-17                 0-7
                         Strong Rock                                     1-19                   0-8                        

Even with their upset loss to 3A No. 2 South Atlanta at the BCB MLK Showcase, No. 1 Greenforest is still the team to beat in Class A-Private. Justin Forrest is averaging 19 points per game while New Hampshire-commit John Ogwuche is chipping in 12.2. Coach Larry Thompson’s strength lies inside with a plethora of 6-foot-8 players and above keyed by 5-star junior, 7-foot Ikey Obiagu who averages over 4 blocks per game. No. 3 SWAC relies on horse De’Andre Ballard, a 4-star junior averaging 23.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 3.3 steals. No. 7 Our Lady of Mercy doesn’t have the size or athletes of some other teams in the region, but steady guard play has helped Coach Tony Caruso’s team burn opponents. Cedric Labat averages 18.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists while Anthony Caruso dishes out 6.2 assists per game. Paideia is starting to play some of its best ball behind Addison Owen and Solomon Burt-Murray. Landmark Christian flirted with the top five this season but the War Eagles’ run-and-gun offense has slowed down. Zack Allen and Collier Schultz are both still lethal. Allen posts 24.1 points and 8.4 rebounds while Schultz adds 16.3 points and 7.1 assists. Junior Khalid Wilkins is a player to remember for Mt. Vernon. The point guard has some juice when the ball is in his hands.

Region 6

                 Team                                                               Overall            Region
(A) * No. 2 North Cobb Christian                  15-3                 6-0
(B) * No. 4 St. Francis                                           14-7                 8-1
(A) Excel Christian                                                11-9                 5-1
(B) Georgia School for the Deaf                    6-8                   3-1
(B) * No. 5 Whitefield Academy                   13-7                 6-2
(A) Christian Heritage                                         15-4                 4-2
(B) * No. 9 King’s Ridge Christian                13-6                 7-3
(B) * No. 10 Walker                                              13-5                 5-3
(A) Mt. Zion                                                              10-10               4-4
(B) Fellowship Christian                                   6-15                 2-6
(B) Mt. Pisgah                                                          5-14                 2-8
(A) Trion                                                                     4-16                 1-6
(B) Pinecrest Academy                                     8-12                 1-7
(A) Mt. Paran                                                           2-16                 0-7
(A) Morris Innovative                                         0-8                   0-2

Star-power is heavy in Region 6 and five teams load the Class A-Private rankings including defending state champ No. 4 St. Francis.  No. 5 Whitefield Academy extracted revenge against their arch nemesis last Tuesday, 75-73. Isaiah Hart went for 37 points and Brendon Myles poured in 25 points and 14 rebounds to beat the Knights. Kobi Simmons scored 34. He is averaging 27 points this season and recently committed to Arizona. No. 2 North Cobb Christian has been up and down like much of the region this year, but Coach Greg Matta finds ways to win. Excel Christian is red-hot, winning five straight games. Darius Thrower, Caleb West and Chris Hale have carried Coach Matt Sanders’ Eagles. No. 9 King’s Ridge has 7-foot center Tolu Jacobs waiting to become eligible. One big man has played and done so extremely well for No. 10 Walker. Harvard-commit Robert Baker is averaging over 22 points and 13 rebounds per game, pacing the Wolverines.

Region 7

              Team                                                   Overall            Region
(B) No. 1 Hancock Central                 14-5                 7-1
(A) No. 2 Wilkinson County              15-5                 6-1
(B) Georgia Military College            10-6                 5-2
(A) * No. 8 Stratford Academy        13-5                 5-3
(B) No. 10 Lincoln County                  12-5                 5-3
(A) First Presbyterian Day                13-7                 5-3
(B) Aquinas                                                  7-5                   5-3
(A) Tattnall Square Academy          13-6                 3-4
(B) Warren County                                 4-14                 3-5
(A) Mt. de Sales                                         8-12                 2-5
(A) Twiggs County                                  8-12                 1-6
(B) Taliaferro County                           1-12                 1-6
(B) Glascock County                              0-11                 0-6

No. 1 Hancock Central will be no more after No. 10 Lincoln County upset the Bulldogs 61-59 on Tuesday; the Red Devils’ first win over Hancock in over 25 years! Ahmad Rand finished with 18 points, over 10 rebounds and eight blocks. The 6-foot-7 junior is no longer the best kept secret in Georgia. Slowly, D-1 programs have started taking notice in the big man and the program. No. 2 Wilkinson County has won six straight and has split with Hancock, 68-55 at home, a win, and a 70-62 loss at Hancock on Jan. 9. Sophomore Clarence Jackson is 6-foot-5 and leads Wilkinson with 13.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists. The Warriors have some tough size inside with four players 6-foot-5 or taller, capped by 6-foot-9 Jonathan Baehre. Georgia Military can be a scary team moving forward thanks to 6-foot-2 senior Luke Lawson. The flamethrower pumps in 25.7 points per game. No. 8 Stratford Academy has some big-time athletes. Nate Brooks, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound junior, has drawn major interest from D-1 schools. Quintez Cephus was originally signed to play guard at Furman, but instead decided to play football at Wisconsin. Senior guard O’Showen Williams, another football standout, is difficult to contain on the hardwood, giving Coach Jamie Dickey three reliable scorers. 

Region 8

              Team                                                   Overall            Region
* No. 6 Lakeview Academy                  18-4                 10-0
Hebron Christian Academy             16-6                 8-2
Tallulah Falls                                             11-9                 7-3
Athens Christian                                    10-7                 6-3
Prince Avenue Christian                  10-6                 5-3
Towns County                                         7-11                 3-4
Providence Christian                          5-15                 3-6
Athens Academy                                   4-14                 1-7
George Walton Academy                2-16                 1-8
Commerce                                                  0-17                 0-8

Hebron Christian cracked the top ten at No. 10 last week, but quickly fell out after No. 6 Lakeview Academy spanked them 65-48. Hebron also lost 62-46 to George Walton. Lakeview is the class of the region and will finish the regular season undefeated baring a huge upset. Coach Todd Cottrell’s group shares the ball well and gets everyone involved. Senior Daniel Fadool is an assist machine while Josh Randolph and Carter Reeves are double-double threats. Junior Tre Gober is dangerous on the perimeter as one of Lakeview’s most consistent scorers.

No. 5 Newton rams Tucker out of first-place in Region 2

No. 5 Newton 58, Tucker 48

It had been 719 days since the Tucker Tigers (17-5, 7-1) had last lost a region game. A 45-42 loss to Stephenson on Feb. 7, 2014 back in Class AAAAA was Coach James Hartry’s last defeat. Last season the Tigers swept through their new home, Region 2-AAAAAA, and through the first seven region games of this season, they had started 7-0, surviving No. 5 Newton 57-56 at Tucker on Dec. 15.

Newton (19-2, 7-1), enjoying its best start since 2009-10 when the Rams opened 30-1 before falling to state champion Milton in the semifinals, entered Wednesday’s make-up game at 18-2, using last season’s state playoff run as a springboard into the 2015-16 season. As a No. 4 seed last year, the Rams knocked off defending state champion Tift County 52-49 in round one and took down No. 2 seed Dacula 58-54 in the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual state champion Wheeler in the Elite 8, 72-54.

With all of Coach Rick Rasmussen’s recent success with the Rams, one win still eluded Newton: Tucker. Last night, the Rams were finally able to rid themselves of their demons and get the monkey off their back with a 58-48 win at home to take over first-place.

“It was a big win for us tonight,” explained Rasmussen. “I thought we had a really good chance to beat them at their place and I thought we were certainly capable of playing better than we did the first time.”

They did.

Things didn’t start out so promising for the Rams however. Tucker jumped out to a 9-2 lead and looked like the more energized team, but Newton’s leading scorer, junior JD Notae, shook the Rams out of the doldrums and scored their first eight points of the game.

To end the first period, freshman sensation Ashton Hagans drove on the fastbreak and found senior Jaquan Simms open in the left corner for one of his four three-pointers on the night to give Newton a 13-11 lead heading into the second quarter.

The onslaught continued for the Rams in the second quarter as Notae’s early spurt in the first quarter ignited a 21-4 Newton run that flipped the score from a 9-2 deficit to a 23-13 advantage with 3:55 left to play in the second quarter. Tucker would pick itself off the mat and end the period on a mini 5-2 run, capped by a Tyler Payne steal and lay-in at the buzzer, cutting Newton’s halftime lead to 25-18.

The third quarter saw Tucker senior center Adonis Green score back-to-back baskets but halfway through the frame Green picked up his fourth foul. Coach Hartry elected to keep him in the game and just 15 seconds later, Green committed his fifth personal, fouling out with 2:52 remaining in the third quarter and the Tigers trailing 33-26.

While Tucker was searching for answers on how to replace Green, but more importantly slow down Newton’s guards, Jaquan Simms caught fire, canning back-to-back threes and drawing a foul on a deep ball. Simms scored eight of his 16 points in the third quarter and pushed the Rams’ lead to 38-26.

However, once again it was Tucker using a late spurt to keep the game close. The Tigers ran off four quick points stamped by Kenton Eskridge’s lay-up right before the horn to make it a 38-30 game entering the fourth quarter.

Tucker did not crawl much closer than eight points in the fourth quarter as Notae and Dante Johnson would not allow another late game disappointment. In their first meeting, the Rams blew the game at the line, connecting on just 7-of-18 attempts. Wednesday night, Newton sank 14-of-22 free throws, but more importantly 12-of-17 in the fourth quarter. Notae scored 11 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth including going 5-of-6 from the stripe while Johnson netted six of his eight points in the final frame, hitting all four free throws.

After a hot start for Eskridge, scoring six first quarter points, the Rams honed in on Tucker’s playmaker and held him to four points over the next three periods.

Freshman Ashton Hagans won the war with junior Kenton Eskridge
Freshman Ashton Hagans won the war with junior Kenton Eskridge

The win was an important one for Newton, not only for region seeding, but for the overall psyche of the team, finally beating a program that has troubled them over the past two seasons. Coach Rasmussen understands there is still work to be done on Friday night as Newton hosts rival Rockdale County on senior night and the Tigers potentially looming in the region tournament.

“It feels good to get this one. I’m sure we’re going to have to play them again in the region tournament, so I’m sure that will be another war and we’re excited about it.”

My Take: Newton’s guards are the real deal. People who aren’t in the know could have given me slack for keeping the Rams in the top ten after an early 2-1 start following a loss to Henry County, but I had faith that Newton would warrant its place in the rankings. Fast forward eight weeks later and Coach Rick Rasmussen’s team is No. 5 in the poll. JD Notae has caught the eye of D-1 schools such as Kennesaw State, South Alabama and Presbyterian and all for good reason. The junior had two scoring binges. One to breathe life into the Rams and the second to close the door shut on Tucker. Notae scored the first eight points of the game to start a 21-4 run that gave Newton the lead for good and in the fourth quarter his 11 points ended all hope of a Tucker comeback. Notae showed an ability to finish inside with reverse lay ups and the coolness to sink important free throws late in the game. Freshman Ashton Hagans has some of the best court vision I’ve seen this season. It is extremely rare to see a point guard with that kind of court presence and the fact that he is only a freshman makes him a high major prospect for good reason; UGA has already offered, with Tennessee, Mississippi State and Auburn all showing interest. In last night’s low scoring game, he didn’t need to dazzle or show off any slick eye-catching passes like a Will Washington, but he was mature with the ball and put it in the right spots for teammates to score, something that can’t always be taught. The third man of the trio was senior Jaquan Simms. He cashed in four three-pointers and finished with 16 points. His ability to get hot from behind the arc will be invaluable come tournament time. With sophomore DeAndrae Butler missing from the lineup, Josh Tukes and Chazz Tanner stepped up and combined for four points and 10 rebounds. Dante Johnson was a key piece off the bench with eight points and nine rebounds, bringing great energy.

Xavier Johnson played well for Tucker in the absence of Adonis Green, who fouled out with four points and six rebounds. Johnson posted team-highs of 12 points and nine rebounds. Kenton Eskridge got going early on, putting his head down and finishing at the cup, but Newton made the proper adjustments to slow down the junior. The Tigers had some nice balance scoring, but weren’t able to find enough firepower to keep up with the running Rams.

Top Performers

JD Notae – 22 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals
Jaquan Simms – 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
Dante Johnson – 8 points, 9 rebounds
Ashton Hagans – 7 points, 1 rebound, 8 assists, 3 steals
Chazz Tanner – 4 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block

Xavier Johnson – 12 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block
Kenton Eskridge – 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Amir Butcher – 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block
Josh Vann – 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Trevon Flowers – 6 points, 1 rebound
Adonis Green – 4 points, 6 rebounds