Fortunately for the Grangers, that didn’t happen, and they eventually took charge to win 57-50 and improve to 3-0.
Newnan opened the game with a pair of slam dunks, one an alley-oop to 6-foot-8 junior Immanuel Griggs, who threw down the flush with authority.
That’s win LaGrange coach Mike Pauley made an immediate adjustment that would shut down Griggs’ high-flying act, and he wouldn’t get another easy basket like that until late in the fourth quarter.
LaGrange used a zone defense underneath that sagged on Griggs with double-team pressure that forced the big man to kick the ball out.
Newnan’s outside game was off and the adjustment played right into the hands of the Grangers.
By the final two minutes of the game, Newnan couldn’t buy a basket after pulling within one point with 4:48 remaining.
“We were really glad how the guys responded to that,” Pauley said of the early dunks. “They made a basket and we made a basket and it was still 2-2 even though they had a lot of momentum with those two dunks. When we did make a couple of those adjustments, they really only had that one big dunk late, but other than that, it was really a pretty good defensive game for us.”
LaGrange went up 6-5 with just over three minutes left in the first quarter, and it didn’t trail again.
The Grangers led 12-9 after the first quarter, and after going up 21-11 with 5:02 left in the first half, they led 27-21 at the half.
The third quarter saw the Grangers extend their lead and also take control of the game with a controlled style of play on offense while also controlling the boards.
“We made some adjustments at halftime and we asked the guys to do a few different things that we thought would eliminate some of the turnovers,” Pauley said. “I was disappointed a little bit that we lost that lead (in the fourth quarter), but they kind of earned that back. We just had to ward off their runs is what happened.”
LaGrange led 42-33 after three quarters before a furious Newnan comeback would chip into the Granger lead, leaving them ahead 44-43 with 4:48 left.
At that point, Newnan seemed to run out of gas as it would only score six more points compared to LaGrange’s 13 late in the fourth.
LaGrange reeled off eight unanswered points, four points going to Justyn Olson on two fast breaks, to put it away.
Pauley gave kudos to several players who made key plays down the stretch, including Joe Sanders, who made his first appearance for the Grangers, giving the team some valuable minutes after wrapping up football season two weeks ago.
“It was nice having Joe back,” Pauley said. “He made a difference and got some guys in foul trouble. I thought late, Don Leak’s outlet passes to the guys scoring the layups, we were able to convert some fast breaks because of the outlet and layup by Olson. But also, Kwame Brown, who didn’t play particular good in the first half, had a really good second half in that he found some shots and hit some free throws.”
Drew Moody, the 6-3 senior also hit four critical free throws late in the game that extended the Granger lead after Newnan came within a point.
Moody’s rebounding on the defensive end and second-chance rebounds on offense proved to be the nail in the Newnan coffin.
“They went cold and we were able to get those big board,” Pauley said.
Some of the LaGrange efforts were hampered even before the game started when it was decided that starting point guard Baron Smith, Jr. would sit out the game.
Smith suffered a hip injury during Monday’s team practice.
“We saw the trainer and she said she thought he could go if he felt like it, but we watched him, but it was clear that he wasn’t. He has a strained hip,” Pauley said.
LaGrange was led in scoring by Brown with 14 points, Moody had 12, and Rudra Kissun added 6.
The Grangers will have their first road test of the season on Friday at East Coweta, a team they defeated at home 77-53 on Nov. 27.
LaGrange plays at Callaway on Saturday.