SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -– In what seemed like the blink of an eye, St. Johns’ early lead had turned into an insurmountable deficit.
The Pioneers led defending state champion Putnam 10-8 early in the first quarter of Tuesday’s Division 1 state semifinal match at the MassMutual Center -- and that was when St. John’s ran into the buzzsaw.
Scoring 16 consecutive points in the first half that evolved into a 25-4 run, the Beavers (24-0) put the Central Mass. champion Pioneers (21-5) away with relative ease, running away with a 77-51 victory to earn a berth in the Division 1 state championship game.
The big run was anchored by Putnam guards Ki-Shawn Monroe (13 points), Dizel Wright (12 points, 8 rebounds), and Jonathan Garcia (13 points). The Beavers forced St. John’s to commit more turnovers in the first half than points scored (14).
Nailing two deep threes early in the first half, Monrie said he enjoyed being the beneficiary of all the defensive pressure that the Pioneers put on some of Putnam’s other players.
“I like it that way, everybody’s worried about Ty [Nichols], Jon, Dizel, and David [Murrell]. They sag off me and I keep on hitting my shots,” Monroe said of the Pioneers’ first half defense, which was a mixed bag of man-to-man and a 2-3 zone.
"It always opens up the game as soon as they game plan whether or not they want to be in zone or be in man. If they go man then we get easy lay-ups...As you can see.”
Putnam coach William Shepard has watched Monroe develop from a timid young talent to a player with the poise and experience needed to help lead by example.
“Ki-Shawn has always been a mainstay. He had some issues as far as confidence last year, but he seemed to overcome that this year,” Shepard said, “He was one of the mainstays offensively today with those jump shots at the beginning of the game. He’s getting hot at the right time, but his decision making has been there since he stepped on the Putnam Academy campus.”
Murrell’s milestone: Putnam senior forward David Murrell topped the one-thousand point plateau on a basket scored in the middle of the third quarter. The game high-scorer with 23 points, Murrell took over the game offensively in the second half –- leading the fast break, hitting the glass, and even giving Putnam some shooting from behind the three-point arc.
“We’re a team, we don’t have any selfish players or anything like that. It’s how we’re having success now, it’s why we’ve gone two years strong. Pretty much that’s how it goes,” Murrell said.
Looking to go out on top and finish his high school career with back-to-back state titles, Murrell said he had no doubts about whether or not the Beavers had what it took to return to the state championship game. Putnam will take on Eastern Mass. champ Central Catholic on Saturday, a team led by Fairfield commit Tyler Nelson and a pair of quality post players in Nick Cambio and Aaron Hall.
“I knew that was going to happen, 'cause knowing our team and how we are -- we hustle, we come out every night and play hard, we practice hard,” Murrell said, “It was kind of obvious that we were going to come out here and do it again – and stay focused.”
Monroe added: “We took it practice by practice, always wanted to go to states again –- that was our goal, to defend it.”
Shepard has preached the importance of practice and the process of getting better all year long, even with all eyes on his team. The Beavers’ coach, who has led Putnam to 33 consecutive wins -– their most previous loss came last February at the hands of West Springfield.
“We get a chance to defend what’s ours,” Shepard exclaimed. “We put ourselves in the right position with hard work. These guys earned it, nothing was given to them, and each game, each day, these guys continue to buy into what we’re doing at Putnam. Just an awesome group here, we have good leadership –- hopefully we can finish this thing off.”