SNELLVILLE -- Knotted at 51 with just over one minute remaining in regulation, the game unraveled for Newton in its third-place bout against top-seeded Grayson Monday afternoon.
Grayson built a four-point lead with just under 15 seconds remaining and held on to win 56-55 to secure the No. 3 seed out of Region 8-AAAAAAA and will avoid facing No. 2 ranked Collins Hill in the first round of the playoffs.
“Very happy with that,” Grayson head coach Robin Potter said in regards to her team avoiding the 27-0 Eagles in the first round. “That was the goal, so we were focused. Then having some time of rebound from the pitiful display that we put on Friday.”
Grayson will instead travel to Peachtree Ridge in the first round of the playoffs while Newton will travel to Collins Hill on Thursday, a tough break for the Rams who held a six-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Newton maintained a five-point lead with three minutes remaining in the fourth when senior Ashanti Wright scored. Turnovers on Newton’s next three offensive possessions, however, allowed Grayson to knot the game at 49-all with 1:46 left.
Sophomore Tylia Kemp later gave Grayson its first lead since early in the second quarter, 51-49 before Newton sophomore Ashleigh Norris responded with a basket of her own to tie the game at 51.
The game then came down to free throws and turnovers in the waning seconds.
Grayson senior Malia Grace converted a pair of free throws to give her Rams a 53-51 lead with 48 seconds remaining. Newton’s Tijunna Freeman then stepped up to free throw the line looking to tie the game, but split her pair, as did Grayson’s Nyelle Lee to keep the Rams out in front by two points, 54-52.
With an opportunity to tie or take the lead with just over 30 seconds remaining, Newton’s Freeman had her pocket picked by Grayson’s Lee, who was immediately fouled. The senior went 1-for-2 from the line to extend Grayson’s lead to three.
On Newton’s ensuing possession, Wright turned the ball over with just over 15 seconds remaining, marking their 11th turnover of the fourth quarter and 16th of the second half.
Again, the ball was stolen by Lee, who split her pair of free throws again. Leading by four, Newton’s Je-nya Smith buried a three-pointer to trim Grayson’s lead to one, but it was little too late.
With less than one second remaining on the clock, Grayson was able to launch a half court pass to secure the come-from-behind victory.
Going small in the fourth quarter and switching to man-to-man defense was what Potter credited their comeback win to. She also pointed to the play of Grace, who finished with 19 points.
The senior proved to be a mismatch for Newton in the post for much of the game.
“Really the whole game we should have been going to her,” Potter said. “We talked to our guards about that. They need to look for her and she needs to post and be a big target for them.”
Kemp led the way with 20 points for Grayson and stole three passes. Lee scored nine points in the win with six coming in the fourth quarter.
Freeman led Newton in scoring with 17 points while Wright (14) and Norris (12) joined her in double figures.