Ja’Quan Newton has moxie, poise under pressure and an undeniable will to win. And he gets a good portion of it from his mother.
Just a day after his mother died after a lengthy battle with cancer, Newton led Ss. Neumann-Goretti to the Class AAA state championship yesterday in front of more than 6,000 fans at the Giant Center.
Newton, a 6-3 senior guard headed to the University of Miami, scored a game-high 33 points in the Saints’ 64-57 overtime victory against Susquehanna Township.
So, under such difficult circumstances, did he ever question whether he was strong enough to succeed on this day?
"No, I never felt that," said a clear-eyed and confident Newton in a victorious locker room. "I don’t feel that about any game, especially not this one. When I came here I was expecting to win and I wasn’t going to let my team down."
"I get a lot of my strength from my mom," he continued. "She’s very strong. She’s a fighter so I get a lot of my fight from her."
Lisa Brown, died Thursday morning at her home in Southwest Philadelphia (53rd and Florence) where she lived with Newton and his brother Cary Rudd.
"It feels great just to get this win for my mom and for my whole family," he said. "And to play the way I did, it just feels great."
With his father Joe in attendance, Newton scored 13 points in the first half en route to an 11-for-19 performance overall with 5 of 9 coming from three. He also added 8 boards, 2 steals and a block.
"This is one for the books," said Arrigale, as he shook his head in apparent disbelief. "What he did tonight was unbelievable. He took it way better than I did the last few days. This was really an emotional day for me and the way he went about his business was just phenomenal. He’s just such a tough-minded kid. I was afraid it was gonna be him and it would have to be the other guys to pull us through. But here he was the calmest and the best in the gym."
Concerned about the Newton the person, Arrigale admitted indifference heading into the game until Newton the player showed determination.
"I came here today with mixed feelings," said Arrigale, who has now led N-G to four state titles since 2010. "I didn’t care if we won, didn’t care if we played, but when he decided that’s what he wanted to do, I was all-in and I was invested.
So were his Saints.
Senior guard Troy Harper finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds, while junior wing Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble added 10 and five. Senior forwards Tony Toplyn and Jamal Custis were hampered by early foul trouble, but Toplyn’s two blocked shots were big late.
"I just want to say that I love them," Newton said of teammates. "They’re my brothers for life and nobody can take that from us. I’ll probably never have the enjoyment I’ve had around them with anybody."
District 3 top-seed Susquehanna Township (23-7) was led by junior forward Quintin Ward’s 18 points on 8-for-9 shooting. Sophomore guard Nehemiah Mack followed with 16, while older brother Gabriel Mack, a senior guard, added 11 points.
After a 26-all stalemate at the half, the Indians appeared poised for a third-quarter push. However, a Newton triple in front of his own bench was followed by a Toplyn 3-point play after an inbounds dish from Kimble, which pushed the Saints ahead, 34-30.
Later, Newton added an unconventional 3-point play after hitting a free throw and then retrieving his own miss on the second for a quick layup after the Indians failed to block him out.
"He might have had a little help tonight," Arrigale said with smile. "He might have had a little help tonight."
Newton scored the game’s only field goal in overtime and added four more points via freebie. He also seemed to respond when needed. After a Ward blocked-shot started an Indian fast break, Newton was there to reject G. Mack from behind.
"This is special, just because it was the last game and because of the things we’ve been through," Newton said. "If I go through something, they go through something because we’re brothers."
Later, Harper came over for one last embrace before exiting the locker room. "Thank you bro," he said to Newton. "Thank you, too," Newton responded.
And now, after starting for four Catholic League champions (the only player ever to do so), Newton, the league’s all-time leading scorer, ends his career at Neumann-Goretti with a third state title. But with difficult days ahead, Arrigale ended the night with perspective.
"He’s not done with me," Arrigale said. "I have to get him to the finish line. I have to make sure he’s OK. He’s fine now, but in a couple days everything will settle in and he will realize that Lisa is not around. We all just have to be there for him and get him to Miami where I know those guys will take good care of him."
Their bond will extend far behind that.