SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –- Putnam Vocational went on a 16-6 run beginning midway through the third quarter and into the first few minutes of the fourth to not only create, distance, but cruise to a 64-42 win over West Springfield Wednesday night at American International College in Springfield.
In the rubber match, Putnam (21-1) continually kept West Side (21-3) from climbing back into the game. Following a Riyadh Asad putback that cut the lead to single digits, 39-31, the Beavers rallied off six straight to end the third quarter with a 14-point edge.
In, the fourth Putnam added to the run and stretched the lead to 51-33 with contributions from several players. Putnam got the lead up to as high as 27 in the fourth.
“That’s where we pick it up,” Putnam junior David Murrell said. “That’s our quarter, the fourth quarter.”
Although the offensive surge lifted Putnam into its first sectional final since the 1980s, it was the defense that sparked the win.
“Defense,” senior forward KayJuan Bynum said. “We love defense.”
Dizel Wright and Jonathan Garcia were able to contain the perimeter for Putnam while Bynum and Murrell controlled the boards. Bynum and Murrell grabbed 25 rebounds between the two of them, aided by Chris Lipscomb’s foul trouble. Wright and Garcia held Asad and Paul Bessette to 13 points combined. Andy McNulty was the only player to score in double figures for West Side with 16.
As a team, Putnam kept the three-point shooting Terriers to only four triples on the night -– all in the first half.
“We [held West Side] to a nine-point first quarter and an eight point third quarter,” Shepard said. “That in itself showed that we bought into it defensively.”
The Beavers started off the game 12-3 and held a single-digit lead for much of the first half. Dewey King connected on a three to get West Side within four, only to have Bynum and Tavis Frazier hit back-to-back threes upping the lead to 10. West Side cut it to six later in the second quarter, but Putnam countered with a Ki-Shawn Monroe three.
“Dizel thrives defensively,” Shepard said. “He loves when we put him on the other team’s best man.”
“Jon Jon (Garcia) has been the most consistent defender we’ve had all year,” added the fourth-year head coach. “He does all the little things.”
Murrell ended with 21 points and 11 boards. Bynum added 16 and 14.
For the third time in as many seasons West Side is eliminated in the semifinals. The Terriers three losses came to only Putnam and Springfield Central. Putnam will play the Central Saturday at Curry Hicks Cage at UMass Amherst.
Putnam wins rubber match: On Jan. 25, West Side was without Bessette and like Wednesday Lipscomb was saddled with fouls and Putnam won at home 59-43. West Side returned the favor on Feb. 12, which was senior night for the Terriers. Lipscomb drilled a corner three to give West Side a 52-50 lead. West Side would hold on to win 54-50.
In that loss, Putnam’s lone shortcoming this season, Dizel Wright dressed but did not play.
“In the first time he (Bessette) wasn’t there,” Shepard said. “And when they beat us, we eren’t at full strength. Both teams we’re at full strength and we were really looking forward to this game.
On Wednesday, both teams were at full strength and Beavers and Putnam avenged last night’s loss.
"It was nice to beat West Springfield, after they beat us,'' Bynum said. "That was a good win over a good team.''
Versatility meets size, tradition: West Side threw on a full court press in the fourth, in attempt to get back into the game. But Putnam’s balance, including forward Bynum and Murrell being able to handle the ball, turned the press into a fastbreak.
Putnam is an unselfish team and one through five commit to the defensive side of the ball, which has helped the Beavers to a 21-1 record so far this season.
“It’s communicating with each other, believing in each other and just being their for each other,” Shepard said. “And that’s what we’ve done consistently this year.”
Putnam will need one more great defensive effort if they want to top the defending state champs, Springfield Central. The Golden Eagles have won two Western Mass. titles since 2009, while Putnam hasn’t made a sectional final since 1984.
“Everyone says we can’t beat anybody,” Murrell said. “Hopefully we can prove it to Central and beat Western Mass.”
Central features 6-foot-8 Chris Baldwin and 6-foot-5 Kamari Robinson on the frontline, standing over Putnam’s 6-foot-2 Murrell and 6-foot-3 Bynum as the starting forwards.
Putnam’s duo grabbed 25 boards in Wednesday’s win, but how will they fare against the state’s biggest frontcourts?
The answer could come from the perimeter. Garcia, Wright, and reserve guard Ty Nichols add create length and size, holding the talented West Side backcourt in check in the semifinals. Asad, Bessette, and McNulty combined for 29 points -– 16 coming from McNulty.
Putnam and Central are separated by just 1.2 miles and meet at the Cage for bragging rights.
“This is what you get when you play together for three years,” Bynum said. “We’re no longer a team we’re family.”