The Renton High School boys basketball team took down the Newport Knights by a score of 77-73 on the final day of January. The Redhawks were propelled by junior Ajayi Simmons and Dennis Johnson both scored over 20 points during the contest.
“Tonight was about getting on track … If you want to qualify for the state tournament and win games in the state tournament. The team we played tonight, and Mercer Island, are the tier of teams you have to beat,” Head Coach Rashaad Powell said.
It was another win against a tough opponent for Renton, playing against above-average opponents helps Renton’s squad build positive habits. “If we don’t have consistent habits against good teams it’s going to hurt us,” Powell said.
Renton was able to outlast Newport despite senior Samuel Chen scoring 39 points.
It was an interesting game from the start, with no announcer for the contest. But that added a challenge that coach Powell thought would challenge his team. “We had to come out and create our own energy from the start.”
The first quarter ended with a Renton lead, 19-15. Dennis Johnson led the Redhawks with eight points in the first frame. Entering halftime the Redhawks were cruising, with a game-high 23-point quarter and a five-point lead over the 14th-ranked 4A Newport Knights, 42-37.
Renton was able to get that lead by putting a couple of Newport players into foul trouble. But unfortunately, the Redhawks couldn’t capitalize from the free throw line, something that is intriguing to Coach Powell.
“We started the year as a really good free throw shooting team. Over the last three games our percentage just hasn’t been the same. We practice free throws every day, we put the work in,” he said. “But it just comes down to focus in the moment.”
During the third quarter, anything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Redhawks. There was a lack of energy on the defensive side of the ball; the team just wasn’t playing how Coach Powell wanted them to. It took trust in the system and their coach that got Renton back on the right path.
“This is consistently one of the most resilient groups I have coached,” Powell said.
Within the final thirty seconds of the third quarter, Newport took their first lead of the game and ended the quarter up three on the Redhawks. The break in between quarters seemed to be the pause that Renton needed.
In the fourth quarter, Johnson and Simmons took over. In that quarter alone the two combined for 90% of the team’s points, 20-22. Simmons also recorded six rebounds in the quarter alone, his totaled 13 for the game.
“I just had to focus on when to get to my spots,” Simmons said. “I had to calm down a little bit after the first half, I just needed to remember to get to my spot and know what shots I have to take.”
The two combined to put away Newport in the closing minutes, a turnaround jumper from Simmons put the Redhawks up two possessions. The next time down the floor Johnson hit a three-pointer assisted from De’Rai Taylor put the Knights away. Johnson finished with 27 points, while Simmons finished with 24.
“Over the course of the season, they have improved tremendously. Dennis is working on challenging himself defensively and meeting those challenges. Ajayi has stepped out of his shell and is becoming a much more vocal leader,” Powell said.
Renton locked up the number one seed and is slated to play in the KingCo Championship on Feb. 9 against the winner of Sammamish and Foster.
“I’m excited. I love these guys, I feel like we can make it far in the postseason,” Simmons said.