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Hoophall: Putnam 77, Woodstock Acad. (Conn.) 45

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Less than 30 seconds into the game, Putnam’s Dizel Wright picked off a pass at half court and took off towards his basket. He elevated and threw down a rim-rattling dunk for the first points of the game. He held onto the rim to let defenders pass underneath him, which served as a metaphorical exclamation point on the play.

That set the tone for the rest of the game as No. 1 Putnam beat Woodstock Academy (Conn.), 77-45.

“That was really important,” said Putnam (10-0) junior Tyonne Malone (19 points, 9 rebounds). “Dizel always gets those dunks. It gets the team hyped on the bench so we come out with a lot of energy.”

Woodstock (9-2), the defending Connecticut Class L champion, came out in a zone defense to try to slow the game down and keep the ball on the perimeter. Putnam , the defending MIAA Division 1 champion, likes to play in transition and work quickly, but they appeared more than happy to play in its half court offense. Even though his team never trailed in the game, Putnam coach William Shepard was not happy to see that zone early on.

“Obviously, if they’re setting up in their zone, that means they scored, so I wasn’t happy with that,” he said. “As far as teams getting into their zone, if we’re playing defense like we’re capable of playing, we’re getting transition baskets because they don’t have time to set up the zone. But our defensive intensity wasn’t there like it was supposed to be at the beginning of the game. We came into halftime, talked to them, made an adjustment, and they responded well.”

As a team, Putnam shot 50 percent from the floor, including 8-of-18 from the three-point line.

Putnam went into halftime with a 36-27 lead and for the second game in a row, blew the game open in the third quarter. The Beavers outscored Woodstock 25-8 in the third frame to put the game out of reach.

“We’re trying to change it from last year where we would do that in the fourth quarter,” said Putnam senior David Murrell. “We’re trying to switch things up because everybody knows our style from last year where we’d start the fourth quarter and try to hop on them. I don’t know, it seems like we’re not getting our heads in the game early.”

For a team known for consistently playing only a few of its bench players, Putnam’s bench outscored Woodstock’s 15-0.

Woodstock junior Adam Converse lead the way for his team with 14 points and 6 rebounds.

After playing two games in three days over the holiday weekend, Putnam will have a day off on Sunday, but then it is right back to practice on Monday. They're already halfway through its 20 game schedule, so there has not been a lot of time to get in quality practices. Shepard said with the team’s game schedule, he was concerned about conserving the team’s energy level and not wearing them down outside of games.

Putnam will be back playing a game again Tuesday against West Springfield.

Beasts on the blocks: The Beavers outscored Woodstock 46-22 on points in the paint. For a team that is known for its ability to push the pace and getting out and running in the open court, Saturday was the opposite of that. The game was played mostly in the halfcourt, and Putnam adjusted accordingly.

Murrell and Malone were active on the glass, finishing with 15 and nine rebounds respectively. Thirteen of those came on the offensive end, with both players out-jumping and outmuscling Woodstock’s post players to the basketball. As a team, Putnam out-rebounded Woodstock 49-29.

“First thing coach says all the time is you gotta box out,” said Malone. “That’s the first thing he says, put a body on somebody and see the ball. If you can’t get it, just keep boxing out and someone else is going to come and get that rebound.”

As the season rolls along, how each player asserts themselves on the backboards will go a long way to determining Putnam’s success. It will go up against teams with taller and heavier post players in the postseason, but if Murrell (6-foot-3) and Malone (6-foot-4) play like they did Saturday, their lack of size will not be an issue. Coming off a 27 point, 12 rebound performance Thursday against Springfield Central, Murrell had another double-double Saturday with 15 points to go along with his 15 boards. Malone was one rebound away from a double-double of his own.

“We challenge Tyonne and David to control the boards,” said Shepard. “If you’re capable of dominating, dominate for however long you’re out there. Tyon really took heed today and really took care of the boards and David was his normal self.”