Anal­y­sis: The best game so far this sea­son

The Covington News - - SPORTS & LIVING - GABRIEL STO­VALL gsto­vall@cov­news.com

There’s still so much to un­pack in New­ton’s 89-83 triple over­time win over de­fend­ing state cham­pion West­lake Thurs­day night that we’re go­ing to give our­selves an ex­tra day to talk about this one be­fore mov­ing on Tift County.

The top-ranked Rams (28-1) avenged their 2016 semi­fi­nals lost to West­lake in dra­matic fash­ion, and made a ma­jor state­ment that it is poised to con­tend for its first state bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onship since 1964.

As we con­tinue to an­a­lyze one of the best high school bas­ket­ball games of the year in the state, we’ll start by point­ing out some key per­form­ers and per­for­mances.

Sopho­more PG Ash­ton

Ha­gans: Of­ten the temp­ta­tion for the un­trained bas­ket­ball eye that’s look­ing for a game’s top play­ers is to find a stat sheet and see who scored the most points. In that case, you’d look at the fact that Ha­gans had just 12 and make light of the im­pact he had on Thurs­day night’s game. Please don’t do that. Ha­gans fin­ished with 12 points, but he also notched a ca­reer-high 17 as­sists and fin­ished with five steals and five re­bounds. In short, Ha­gans did what good floor gen­er­als do — he made ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one else around him bet­ter, in­clud­ing set­ting up J.D. No­tae (24 points), Isa­iah Miller (21 points) and Darvin Jones (20 points) time and time again to make big shots in clutch mo­ments.

Not to be over­shad­owed is the fact that Ha­gans also did yeoman’s work in help­ing de­fend West­lake’s 6-foot-8 be­he­moth and Auburn com­mit Chuma Okeke. It could

be stated that Okeke was the dif­fer­ence be­tween a New­ton loss and win last year in the Fi­nal Four. But Thurs­day night, de­spite a game-high 35 points, Ha­gans helped make sure that Okeke had to work for ev­ery sin­gle one of his buck­ets. This is noth­ing new for the sopho­more, as he’s typ­i­cally drawn the as­sign­ment of guard­ing the op­po­nent’s best player all sea­son long — see New­ton’s two games against 6-foot-7 Spar­tan­burg Day phe­nom Zion Wil­liamson. Ha­gans once again staked his claim as one of the top young point guards in the na­tion.

Se­nior Cen­ter Josh Tukes: Speak­ing of big time per­for­mances on de­fense, Tukes was a man down low, es­pe­cially early be­fore get­ting into a lit­tle foul trou­ble. He wasn’t a stat sheet stuffer, but his 6-foot-6 pres­ence was felt and needed, es­pe­cially in help­ing to stymie Okeke’s pro­duc­tion in the first quar­ter. Re­mem­ber, although Okeke had 35, it took him 12 ex­tra min­utes to get it. Tukes had sev­eral blocked shots on Okeke early and grabbed sev­eral key re­bounds. He, along with 6-foot-5 sopho­more Ar­mani Har­ris, are the only two “bigs” New­ton has, and both — par­tic­u­larly Tukes — had big mo­ments Thurs­day night that helped pro­pel the Rams to a vic­tory. Se­nior SG Darvin Jones: All year when you think of New­ton boys bas­ket­ball, you think of that trio of Isa­iah Miller, J.D. No­tae and Ash­ton Pa­gans. But time and time again, Jones has proven him­self to be just as im­por­tant a piece to the Rams’ puz­zles as the afore­men­tioned “big three.” Jones kick-started New­ton’s of­fense in the first quar­ter by scor­ing the team’s first eight points, forc­ing West­lake to ex­tend it­self de­fen­sively to honor his jump-shoot­ing threat. When Jones is on, it loosens up the rest New­ton’s of­fense and cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for No­tae, Miller and Pa­gans to at­tack the paint in pen­e­tra­tion or to find Jones open on drive-and-kick ac­tion.

Sopho­more SG Colby Rogers: This 6-foot-3 emerg­ing tal­ent had per­haps the loud­est 10 points you’ll ever see in a bas­ket­ball game. His back-to-back treys mid­way through the third quar­ter gave New­ton some much needed of­fen­sive juice to stave off a West- lake run, and his four free throws sank at the end of the game were nec­es­sary to kill any hopes of late game hero­ics that would force a fourth over­time. Next year when No­tae, Miller, Jones and Tukes are gone, the onus will be on play­ers like Rogers to step up and fill in those scor­ing and lead­er­ship gaps. His per­for­mance down the stretch of this sea­son — and par­tic­u­larly Thurs­day night — have done noth­ing to make any­one think he’s not up for the chal­lenge.

An­thony Banks | The Covington News

Sopho­more Colby Rogers shoots for three of his 10 points dur­ing Thurs­day’s win over de­fend­ing cham­pion West­lake.

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