ATLANTA -- A 19-0 run surrendered midway through the first half proved to be the difference in a 72-66 loss for Newton Friday night at the Under Armour Give Back Classic at Westlake High School.
Leading No. 5 ranked Wheeler 11-6 with four minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Rams didn’t score again until the scoreboard read 25-14 in favor of the Wildcats. From that point on, the Rams out-scored the Wildcats 55-47, but were unable to complete the comeback in the 6-point loss.
“The 19-0 run was everybody worried about offense and nobody concerned about defense,” first-year head coach Charlemagne Gibbons said. “It’s on us. Hats off to Wheeler. They’re a good team, but the majority of the stuff is on us as individuals.”
Without a 20-point game to his name as a Ram, senior Caleb Byrd exploded for 31 points against the Wildcats on 12 field goals. Byrd scored 19 of his 31 points in the second half and helped lead a late charge that saw the deficit cut to single digits midway through the third quarter.
A Byrd assist on a TJ Clark three-pointer followed by back-to-back Byrd layups cut the Wildcat lead to 42-35 with 4:33 remaining in the quarter, but timely shooting by Wheeler increased the deficit to 10 heading into the fourth, 53-43.
Three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to start the fourth opened the Wildcats’ lead to 16 points, 59-43, a deficit that proved too much in the end for the Rams.
While the Rams continued to show fight down the stretch, the Wheeler lead remained at 11 points or higher until the 1:38 mark. The Rams out-scored the Wildcats 9-4 over the final 1:30 to lose by six.
“I think they showed that they can get up and down the floor,” Gibbons said. “We made the shots down the stretch in the second half once we took the right kinds of shots. You appreciate the fight, but you don’t want the fight to be that late.”
Clark joined Byrd in double figures with 13 points - 10 in the second half - while Max Callaway scored eight. Shawn Smith and Qua Brown each chipped in with five.
The Rams will be back in action Saturday evening at Westlake to take on Dutchdown.