Rams top Dogs

Henry, Smith carry Newton past Rock­dale 55-51 in over­time

The Covington News - - Front page - Josh Briggs Sports Edi­tor

Rock­dale may have four Di­vi­sion 1 prospects, in­clud­ing Dar­ion Clark and Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee-bound Kevin Ware, and have the tal­ent to make a se­ri­ous run at a Class AAAA state ti­tle. But the Bull­dogs re­al­ized Wed­nes­day, as has ev­ery other team that's faced Newton over the past three years, that they don't have Der­rick Henry.

Henry made clutch play af­ter clutch play en route to a game-high 20 points, Wil­lie Smith added a ca­reer-high 19 and the No. 6 (Class AAAAA) Rams stunned the No. 8 (Class AAAA) Bull­dogs 55-51 in over­time.

"We made big plays," Henry said. "Wil­lie stepped up and we gave it all we had. There was stuff go­ing around on Face­book and peo­ple from Rock­dale were say­ing they (Bull­dogs) were go­ing to beat us by 30. As soon as we heard that, that was the fuel we needed. We felt they couldn't beat us and we came out and showed it."

Henry's left-handed la- yup across the lane with 24 sec­onds left in the fourth tied the game at 48. Af­ter Rock­dale (12-5) missed a chance to win it in reg­u­la­tion, Newton (12-2) outscored the Bull­dogs 7-3 in over­time.

"That was a fun game," Newton coach Rick Ras­mussen said. "I knew we'd

have to bat­tle for all four quar­ters. It turned out we had to bat­tle for four and half of an­other one. I thought we played well for re­ally the whole game."

The Rams went 5 of 6 from the free throw line in over­time while Rock­dale made just 1 of 4. Alex Ordu hit two free throws to put the Rams up 50-48 be­fore Clark an­swered with a bucket to tie the game at 50.

Again Henry had the an­swer. He broke the tie with a tough layup with 1:18 left and Stephen Croone hit two free throws to put the Rams up 54-50 with 23 sec­onds to go.

"He's (Henry) been a clutch player for three years," Ras­mussen said. "I've never seen him miss a free throw we had to have. He's a clutch player. He wants it. He wanted it more than they (Bull­dogs) did. That's the bot­tom line."

Rock­dale missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw sit­u­a­tion and scored just the one bucket in over­time.

"I though it was big to take the lead first in over­time," Ras­mussen said. "You want to take the lead and get mo­men­tum and make them play from be­hind. I though scor­ing first was big in the over­time."

Newton held the Bull­dogs to a sea­son low for points and in the 50s for just the third time this year. Rock­dale came in av­er­ag­ing 70 points per game. Clark fin­ished with 20 points and 13 re­bounds while Ware had 12 points and six as­sists. CJ Wil­son chipped in with eight points.

Ware and Clark started the game show­cas­ing Rock­dale's high-oc­tane of­fense when the fu­ture Vol­un­teer hit the 6-foot-7 for­ward in tran­si­tion for a thun­der­ous dunk to give the Bull­dogs an early 7-6 lead. But the un­fazed Rams re­sponded to take the lead on Smith's two free throws and each team set­tled in.

"One of the things we talked about was get­ting back in tran­si­tion and not let­ting them run," Ras­mussen said. "We did a good job of that all night. We couldn't have a bad quar­ter de­fen­sively in par­tic­u­lar. We stuck to our game plan re­ally the whole time."

Nei­ther team let the other stray too far away. Rock­dale led 13-12 at the end of the first but the Rams ral­lied to take a 26-22 lead at half­time. The Rams led by as many as seven in the sec­ond be­fore Charles Moore drained a three at the end of the pe­riod to pull the Bull­dogs to within four.

"I feel like we came out hard," Henry said. "The last few games we haven't played maybe as hard or well as we can. But I be­lieve the key to this game was we came out de­cent enough to stay in the game and when we took the lead, we ba­si­cally kept it through the rest of the game."

As the game wore on, Newton ad­justed to Rock­dale's in­side game and took other scor­ing op­tions Deshaun Sun­der­haus and Bernard Thomp­son out of the game.

Mean­while, Henry aban­doned his out­side game and at­tacked Rock­dale's in­te­rior. Un­daunted, he scored the ma­jor­ity of his points off the drib­ble against Rock­dale's su­pe­rior height.

"I wanted to show the team that we could get in there and score in­side," Henry said. "I shot a few pull-ups early in the game but I went to the pen­e­tra­tion to show the team that we could get in­side and that we didn't have to set­tle for out­side shots be­cause of their length and ath­leti­cism."

One player who got the mes­sage was Smith. While Henry's out­burst was just the lat­est in the long list of big games over his ca­reer at Newton , Rock­dale never saw Smith's per­for­mance com­ing. Giv­ing up four inches and close to 30 pounds to Clark, Smith played Rock­dale's big­men tough thanks in large part to his quick­ness.

"Wil­lie's an ath­lete. They have a lot of ath­letes and we have a few but Wil­lie's an ath­lete and he came to play," Ras­mussen said. "He's a se­nior and knew this was go­ing to be a fun game and one you would re­mem­ber. He wanted to make some mem­o­ries and I thought he did a great job."

When Smith wasn't bang­ing shoul­ders with Clark and com­pany in­side, he was show­cas­ing his shoot­ing touch. He drained two 3-point­ers in the first half and was a per­fect 4 of 4 from the free throw line in the first half.

"We were try­ing to tem­per those (3-point shots) but he was play­ing well and play­ing with con­fi­dence and he had done sev­eral things that were good so he had the con­fi­dence to take those shots," Ras­mussen said. "When you're play­ing well, a smart coach is go­ing to let you play. That was Wil­lie's best game of the sea­son."

Rock­dale found it­self caught be­tween style and sub­stance on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and they paid for it. Ware drib­bled the ball off his foot while try­ing to time his jump for a dunk on a break­away and Clark missed an easy put­back when he tried to flush it off a miss. Sun­der­haus also missed an easy put­back af­ter a failed dunk at­tempt and each time the Rams made them pay.

In con­trast, Newton stayed within it­self and Rock­dale had no an­swer for Henry.

"The bot­tom line is, he (Henry) may not be the 6foot-5 high-fly­ing ath­lete that some­one thinks is a high ma­jor player but I'll take him over any of those," Ras­mussen said. "He's so pro­duc­tive, it doesn't mat­ter. He has tons of heart — tons of guts and he uses his God­given abil­ity well. You can't stop him."

Ware had a rel­a­tively quiet night for Rock­dale but did hit what would have been the game-win­ner for the Bull­dogs in­side of a minute to play in reg­u­la­tion.

Henry an­swered with an off-bal­ance lefty scoop just over the out­stretched arms of Clark though and Newton's de­fense was able to hold firm at the end.

"He's been a clutch player for three years," Ras­mussen said. "I've never seen him miss a free throw we had to have. He's a clutch player. He wants it. He wanted it more than they (Bull­dogs) did. That's the bot­tom line."

The only other time Henry and Ware faced each other was at the ju­nior all-star game last year in Sa­van­nah. Ware's south­ern team got the bet­ter of Henry's north­ern brethren.

Rock­dale gets a chance at re­demp­tion next Satur­day at home.

"I love com­pe­ti­tion," Henry said. "I love to play the teams that are sup­posed to be at the top and have top play­ers. I'm a com­peti­tor. If you put a high-ranked team or highly rated player in front of me, some­how I find in me to dig down and give even more and I was able to do that tonight."

An­thony Banks/The Cov­ing­ton News

Clutch down the stretch: Der­rick Henry (15) scores the game-ty­ing bas­ket on Rock­dale's Dar­ion Clark dur­ing the Rams' 55-51 over­time win Wed­nes­day.

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