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LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA – Whether Friday night’s game between No. 2 ranked Grayson and No. 5 ranked Newton will be considered survival or redemption will be up to which fanbase you ask.

With the rights to the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Region 4-AAAAAAA tournament on the line, Grayson avenged its loss eighteen days ago and beat Newton 63-56 in a game that got a little too close for comfort down the stretch.

Newton was without McDonald's All-American Stephon Castle and as a result, they trailed by as many as 14 points midway through the third quarter before storming back to make it a game in the closing minutes.

While Grayson head coach Geoffrey Pierce was none too pleased with his Rams (19-5) letting Newton (16-9) erase a double-digit deficit in the second half, he was still able to find several positives in the seven-point win that clinched them the No. 1 seed.

Grayson's Corey Gaton (11) floats for a revers layup to neutralize the defender.

Grayson's Corey Gaton (11) floats for a revers layup to neutralize the defender.

“I thought down the stretch we gave up some offensive rebounds and took some bad shots,” Pierce said. “But on the flip side, we had 22 turnovers last time (against Newton) and I think the number was 13 tonight. So that’s an improvement, but we just have to get better these next few days in practice because we want to put our best foot forward next week in the region tournament.”

In a lot of ways, it was both survival and redemption for Grayson, who finishes up Region 4 play with an impressive 9-1 record.

Newton used a 17-4 run to knot the game at 49-49 on the first possession to start the fourth quarter, but Grayson played well from there. They used a 13-4 run over the next six minutes to take a nine-point lead and that was good enough to secure the win.

It was also a form of redemption for Grayson, who lost to Newton on the road in what was easily their worst performance of the season. They were held to a season-low 43 points in the loss, but Friday night showed that they were able to learn from their mistakes in what was a much stronger offensive performance.

Grayson shot 22 of 44 from the field (50 percent) and knocked down 8 of 19 from behind the arc (42 percent). They also assisted on 14 of their 22 made baskets which is another big positive Pierce took away from Friday night’s win.

“They did a good job moving the ball and cutting and things of that nature,” Pierce said. “That’s something we didn’t do a good job of last time. So I’m happy with how they adjusted.”

Grayson's Chad Moodie admires the basketball, shorty after slamming it over the rim.

Grayson's Chad Moodie admires the basketball, shorty after slamming it over the rim.

Without Castle on the court for Newton, it was going to be a tall task for the Rams to come away with a victory. They managed to hold an early 8-7 lead midway through the first quarter, but Grayson found a nice groove and went into the second leading 17-13.

Grayson’s offense was excellent in the second quarter. They took their first double-digit lead with 3:36 remaining before halftime after a Gicarri Harris steal turned into an easy fastbreak layup for CJ Hyland.

That gave them a 32-21 lead and they went on to take a 37-29 lead heading into the break.

The third quarter started off great for Grayson after they knocked down a pair of three-pointers from Anthony Alston and Harris. That extended their lead to a game-high 14 points (45-31), but things fell apart from there.

Newton mounted a 15-4 run to end the third quarter trailing by only two points, 49-47.

MJ Whitlock led the charge during that stretch. The senior scored the Rams’ next six points before Jabez Jenkins drilled a three-pointer to cut the deficit to five points, 45-40.

Ashton Pennamon then drilled a three and Dwight Brown dunked one home in the closing seconds of the quarter to cut Grayson’s lead down to two points heading into the fourth quarter.

Jenkins buried a jumper on Newton’s opening possession to start the fourth quarter and that tied the game at 49.

But Newton was never able to regain the lead.

An Amir Taylor layup and back-to-back baskets from Hyland gave Grayson a six-point lead and Alston later hit a huge corner three-pointer with 2:46 left that extended their lead to seven points.

Hyland assisted on that Alston three-pointer and followed that up with his seventh assist of the night to Chad Moodie on their next possession.

Hyland had 12 points and seven assists on the night in what was a great overall game for the junior point guard.

Alston led the way for Grayson with 17 points while Harris finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. Taylor also joined them in double figures with 10 points while Moodie scored eight.

As for Newton, only Whitlock managed to score in double figures. The senior guard had 16 points. The next closest was Freeman, who scored eight points.

Newton wasn’t the only team missing a major advantage. The game took place at Archer High School instead of Grayson because of substantial water damage to their court.

The water damage was caused by a soccer ball that broke a sprinkler in their gym and it was unable to be stopped in time to prevent damage to the wood floor.

Not only were the Rams forced to find another host site for Friday’s game, but they were also forced to give up their hosting rights for next week’s region tournament.

Instead, the region tournament will be held at Newton.

It will mark the second year in a row that Newton has held the region tournament and while frustrated given the circumstances, Pierce said they’re looking forward to the new challenges placed in front of them.

“I mean it is what it is,” Pierce said. “We went last year and (Newton) will do a good job as the host. It will be organized. I was telling Charlemagne (Gibbons) that the hospitality room is elite. But that is what playoff basketball is all about. The Final 4 is at a neutral site and this was at a neutral site for us tonight, basically. I think we’re up for the challenge. Archer was nice enough to host us tonight. Shoutout to Tim Watkins and my boy Joel Lecoeuvre.”

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