Hoophall: Springfield Central 76, No. 16 West Side 67

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The defending Massachusetts Division I boys’ state champions needed time to gain experience and develop as a team, which explains the early season growing pains. Springfield Central may have taken its biggest step back into the mix following a 76-67 win over No. 16 West Springfield to wrap up Day 2 of the 2013 Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield on Friday night.

The first half was fast-paced, seeing neither team separate itself from one another. On a few occasions Central (7-2) strung a few baskets together to take the lead, only to see Riyadh Asad shoot West Side (10-1) back into the game. The 6-foot-3 senior had 14 points in the first half of 4-of-8 shooting from three.

“We definitely came together as a family,” said junior point guard Ju’an Williams. “Defense was definitely the key. A lot of defense at practice, which is key, we have to hold our opponents in check.

“I think (this win) will give us momentum going into tomorrow night and Tuesday our first league game against Holyoke.”

Central held a narrow 48-44 lead heading into the final quarter, when the Golden Eagles picked up the intensity led by senior forward Kamari Robinson. The 6-foot-5 captain scored 24 of his game-high 35 points in the second half to lift Central to the team’s fifth straight win.

Repeatedly in the fourth quarter Robinson made key baskets either off his own work on the boards or his ability to slash to the lane and finish for an easy two.

“He’s like Paul Pierce,” said Central head coach Mike Labrie. “You can put a big guy on him, a small guy on him. He can post you up or take you off the dribble.”

“It’s helping me out a lot,” added Robinson, referring to his transition to the wing with the addition of 6-foot-8 Chris Baldwin. “I can go inside-outside. It feels good to play how I naturally play.”

Robinson added this game had added motivation for him after losing in the Hoophall Classic to Windsor (Conn.) last year, the only loss on the 2011-2012 season.

Asad ended with a team-high 26 points and added six rebounds. Baldwin had 13 points and eight rebounds for Central.

West Side heads into league play against Chicopee on Tuesday, while Central participates in Day 3 of the Hoophall Classic against Manchester (Conn.) on Saturday.

Putnam looks on: While two of the best teams in Western Mass. battled in the final game of Day 2 of the 2013 Spalding Hoophall Classic, another one of Western Mass.’ top programs looked on. Putnam had played right before, defeating city foe Sci-Tech 64-49 to remain undefeated.

Central is the area’s hottest team. West Side is the experienced team. But Putnam is the best team right now. William Shepard, in his second season as head coach, has the Beavers playing terrific all-around basketball, starting on the defensive end. Putnam forced 22 turnovers, scoring 23 points off them, including 12 in transition. The Beavers are unselfish as well, dishing out assists on 17 of their 24 field goals.

Putnam was led by the inside presence, of the undersized, but strong, of senior Kayjuan Bynum and junior David Murrell. Both had double-doubles with Murrell leading the team in scoring with 22 points, adding 10 rebounds, while Bynum had 18 points with a team-high 11 boards.

Putnam takes on both West Side next week on Jan. 25 at home.

West Springfield down a man: Paul Bessette, the Terriers junior guard, did not suit up Friday night after breaking his left hand in a win against the High School of Science and Technology on Monday. The 5-foot-8 Bessette had recently rejoined the team and added depth at the guard position, playing alongside fellow junior Andy McNulty.

“He just landed on it,” said West Side head coach Chris Gerber. “It’s frustrating. Paul’s a great kid and he deserves to play.”

Bessette made several key assists in a win against Springfield Cathedral on Jan. 10, keeping the Terriers undefeated. The primary ball handle duties now go back to McNulty, who was able to play off the ball more with Bessette in the lineup. McNulty has answered the call as the West Side floor general already this season, someone Gerber can rely on.

“Andy’s played the point in all 11 games,” said Gerber. “We’ll be looking forward to getting Paul back, but it doesn’t change anything right now.”

Gerber said there is no timetable for his return.

The loss of Bessette comes right before league play starts for West Side and a tough out-of-league game at No. 22 Putnam on Jan. 25.