Last season, the Newton boys basketball team lost seven games by four points or less. In the season opener on Tuesday night, the Cardinals proved they're trying to buck that trend this time around.
Despite blowing a 14-point halftime lead, the Cardinals (1-0), got a big 3-pointer from senior Andrew Clements and the game-winning layup from sophomore Tyler Wood with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game to grab a 53-52 victory over Boone to start the season in an exciting fashion.
"It was good to get that W because this is something we struggled with last year," Newton coach Nick Wilkins said. "We told them that as a coaching staff we're going to improve on getting them prepared for games, and they need to do the same on their end. But it was good to see the kids fight back."
The first quarter gave no indication of the drama that would take place later as the Cards jumped out to a solid lead. Wood drained two threes and junior Ryan Thompson scored four quick points in the post to give Newton a fast 12-4 lead. Newton also took four charges in the quarter and led 16-8 going into the second.
Boone began to show some life at the beginning of the second, but the Cards answered right back with a charge taken by senior Collin Reynolds and five points from Clements. Although Boone started to close the gap, the Cards ended the half on a 10-2 run thanks to four late points from senior Jesse Bates and led 33-19 at the half.
“I think the first half was all about our defense,” Wilkins said. “We were clamping down and not giving them open looks, and on the looks they were getting we were closing down on them. They weren’t getting anything under the basket, and in the second half it seemed like 90 percent of their shots were under the basket.”
Newton came out looking flat in the third quarter and Boone began to slowly build its comeback. Toreador senior Logan Losh was a big part of that, scoring 10 points in the quarter from all over the floor. The Cards were still able to keep Boone at arm’s length, however, thanks to another three from Wood and some contributions off the bench from Thompson and junior Chandler Sturtz.
“I think it was a combination of us not playing as good of defense and them being way more aggressive,” Wilkins said. “They were pushing the tempo up and down the court. We told the kids they were going to come out and gamble to push the tempo, and they did.”
Boone finally made its move in the fourth. Starting the quarter in the bonus, the Toreadors began to do some damage at the free-throw line and held Newton’s offense in check as well. A three-point play from Losh tied the game with five minutes left, and senior Dusty Moran gave the Toreadors their first lead since the first basket of the game a few minutes later with a big 3-pointer.
With the Cards down by four and stuck in a slump with about 30 seconds left, Clements stepped up and took Newton off of life support with a three from the left wing. The shot got the Newton crowd back into the equation and shook Boone from its run.
“I saw him open and figured he would take it to the hole, but he just shot the 3,” Wood said with a laugh. “That was awesome and it was just a total game-changing swing.”
After Boone missed two potentially game-clinching free throws, the Cards had a play ready to run on the other end. However, when that play broke down, Wood decided to improvise. Driving up the left baseline, Wood navigated past two Boone defenders and made a mid-air adjustment to sneak in a layup and regain the lead for the Cards.
“Coach was calling a play for Jesse and it was supposed to go to his side,” Wood said. “But when I got it I saw there was five seconds, so I decided I should probably go. I just ran up and took it to the hole.”
Moran got a decent look at a three on the other end, but it fell short to give Newton the big semi-come-from-behind victory. Despite losing some touch on offense, the Cardinal defense came up big in the game’s closing minutes to keep Boone from stretching the lead out further.
“We have lineups set and we know our best defensive lineup, so that’s the one we had when we were subbing in and out,” Wilkins said. “It really just came down to them. At that point of the game, there weren’t any big defensive adjustments we could’ve done on our end. It was just them going out and doing their job.”
Newton will be thrown right back into the fire on Thursday when it travels to Adel-DeSoto-Minburn for its first road test of the season. The Tigers went 21-4 last season, but the Cardinals believe they can handle any team if they play like they did in the first half on Tuesday and not give up big runs in the second half.
“If we can play the whole game, we won’t need to get into those situations in the first place,” Wood said. “We just have to keep executing like we were at the beginning of the game.”
Newton 53, Boone 52
Score by quarer
B — 8 11 18 15 — 52
N — 16 17 11 9 — 53
B — Losh 17, Kelly 16, Dahl 5, Moran 5, Elsner 4, Slight 3, Mack 2
N — Wood 13, Clements 9, Bates 8, Reynolds 8, Thompson 6, Sturtz 3, Easley 2, Hill 2, Miller 2