AAAAAA boys: Wheeler 72, Newton 54

Top-ranked Wheeler used a balanced offensive effort to overcome an early deficit and pull away for a 72-54 victory over Newton in the Class AAAAAA boys basketball quarterfinals Thursday at Wheeler.

The win puts Wheeler (28-2) in the semifinals against Tucker at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Georgia Tech. Tucker advanced with a 66-52 victory Thursday against Hillgrove. Region 5 champion Wheeler is seeking its sixth state title and first since 2009.

Wheeler’s Jaylen Brown, the nation’s consensus No. 2 prospect, had another strong performance with 20 points and nine rebounds, but he also got a lot of help.

Point guard Makhai Eastmond scored 11 points and hit consecutive 3-pointers midway through the third quarter for a 50-41 lead as the Wildcats began to pull away.

Bilal Abdur-Rahim followed with a layup to make it 52-41, giving Wheeler its first double-digit lead of the night. Abdur-Rahim finished with 13 points.

Newton climbed back to within five points before Wheeler closed the third quarter on a 6-0 run that included a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Darius Perry that made it 58-47. Newton never got any closer during a foul-filled fourth quarter in which the teams combined to make just five field goals.

Wheeler’s Hakeem Anchrum scored six of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, and Shembari Phillips scored eight of his nine points in the second period.

“We’ve got to keep playing hard the whole game, and we did that,” Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb said. “If we continue to play hard and play together, then I think we’ll be OK.”

Brown scored nine points in the first quarter to help the Wildcats stay close, as Newton (22-9, the No. 4 seed from Region 2) led for most of the first half. The Rams drove aggressively to the basket, resulting in layups or kick-out 3-points, and led 22-20 at the end of the period. Newton led by as many as five points in the second quarter before Wheeler pulled even at 36-36, and the Wildcats led 40-36 at halftime after two free throws and a layup by Abdur-Rahim in the final 38 seconds of the half.

“What they were doing was skipping the ball so they could get the wide-open shot,” Lipscomb said. “So what we had to do was try to deny that extra pass. And I think we did a good job of it.”

Newton’s Malik Wilson sparked the early run, scoring 11 of his team’s 22 points in the first quarter. But he did not score again, and the Rams managed just 32 points in the final three quarters.

Newton was led by J.D. Notae, who made three 3-pointers and finished with 15 points. Donovan Grubb scored 12 points before fouling out with 7:25 to play in the game.

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