BOSTON -- As the second half continued to carry on, it was quite clear that one team was significantly more energetic than the other.
Top-ranked Putnam withstood an upset bid from New Mission on Sunday afternoon at the BABC Holiday Classic, pulling away in the second half to knock off the Titans, 69-52,
New Mission was able to dwindle the Putnam lead down to six, 36-30 early in the third quarter, but the Titans collapsed down the stretch, playing their third game in as many days against the buzzsaw that is the defending Division 1 state champion Beavers.
Dizel Wright led Putnam with 20 points and 8 rebounds, while Jonathan Garcia (12 points) and David Murrell (10 points) each put up double figures. Forwards Asante Sandiford (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Fred Rivers (13 points, 14 rebounds) led the Titans, who took on Putnam (4-0) after playing New Hampshire power Bishop Guertin and St. Joseph of New Jersey -- who is considered to be one of the best high school teams on the East Coast -- on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
The Beavers’ fast-paced attack left New Mission (3-2) exhausted in the second half, taking the Titans out of their gameplan and therefore allowing Putnam to pull away significantly after leading by 9 at halftime.
“We felt like we had a good plan, we knew exactly what they were gonna do, but you can’t simulate that speed,” New Mission coach Cory McCarthy said. “We tried to do some things in the walk-through today that were pretty effective, but after awhile once you’re tired, you stop thinking, and you stop sticking to the gameplan.
“Although they turned the ball over, they were still disciplined enough to beat us down the floor. They’ve got five guys who will beat you down the floor, we’ve only got three. That’s the difference in the game: their transition points was probably in the 30’s or 40’s.”
Wright turned in an outstanding performance for the Beavers, about 24 hours after he was forced to leave Putnam’s game against Cambridge because of a dislocated shoulder. Though Wright said the injury was something he can play through, Putnam coach William Shepard will insist his point guard see a doctor about the shoulder when the team gets back to Springfield.
“I spoke to him about that last night, he said it happened to him several times this year. It comes out, he puts it back in, but we’ve got to get that looked at. He says he’s able to play through it,” Shepard said. “He’s shown some senior leadership. Dizel’s been awesome, in practice, in games, he’s just awesome. He’s having a great start to his senior year, a great start.”
Putnam was able to contain New Mission shooting guard Shaquan Murray, who is considered to be one of the MIAA’s best shooters, to 10 points on 4-for-17 shooting from the field.
“That’s what we hang our hat on: defense. Being accountable, now let’s hope we can hold it down where we have to hold it down: the defensive end. We played the way we were capable of playing,” Shepard said.
Murray, the Titans’ anchor on the offensive end and defensively on the perimeter, never could get anything going against the Beavers’ high-pressure defense. Rarely getting a chance to sit during New Mission’s stretch of three games in three days, Murray wore down in the second half.
“I think Shaquan’s tired, he doesn’t get too much time on the bench," McCarthy said. "He just didn’t have any legs, he didn’t create any steals...He wasn’t Shaquan. Bam and Asante will come out five or six times a game, Shaquan stays on the floor. I think we could have rested him more. We just need him to make people better."
The uptempo play was a speed New Mission hadn’t seen all year, and likely won’t see for the rest of their schedule, but McCarthy hopes the experience will pay dividends for the talented Titans’ – perhaps the favorite statewide in Division 2.
“They got us to play out of character, and they sealed the deal. They’re experienced, they’re relentless; they’re the number-one team in the state for a reason,” McCarthy said. “The last two games we played, we won’t see anybody that good for the rest on the season. If we can keep it up we’ll be on track for bigger goals, we’ve got bigger goals.”
Shepard said the overnight stay in Boston was a bonding experience for his team—a trip that included ordering pizzas and watching movies yesterday afternoon at their hotel in Chelsea after knocking off Cambridge. The Beavers will go home with an undefeated record and Valley League play set to start this coming Friday against West Springfield. The next big challenge for Putnam will likely come Jan. 10, where they’ll take on a tough Northampton squad at American International College.