SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- It was an intersection of time and place Thursday night at the Hoophall Classic.
At the birthplace of basketball, on the campus of Springfield College, two schools that are less than a mile apart from each other in Springfield met on a neutral court, played for nothing more than pride. They are the last two Division 1 state champions. On one side, the always-running Putnam, last March's winners. On the other side was 2012 champ Springfield Central, coached by Jack O’Brien, who is in his first year coaching the team and most known for his success building a juggernaut at Charlestown, winning five state titles in a span of six seasons stretching more than a decade ago.
In the end, it was the most recent state champ, Putnam, who came away with a 82-57 victory. At least until the two teams play again, the Beavers will have bragging rights over their Roosevelt Ave. rivals.
“The rivalry is tough, it’s real tough. We don’t like Central and I’m sure they don’t like us,” said Putnam junior Ty Nichols (12 points, 6 rebounds). “We’ll see them again later in the season, and that will probably be more of an intense game because they will have to make the playoffs. Whenever there’s a Putnam vs. Central game, everybody’s talking about it. We just love it. There’s talent out in Western Mass. and people come out and support us.”
Putnam (9-0) likes to get out of the gates fast and play in transition as much as possible, and Thursday was no different. It jumped out to a 15-7 lead in the first quarter off the back of its transition offense. The Golden Eagles (4-6) were able to hit timely three's towards the end of the quarter, which cut the lead to 18-15.
Putnam was able to maintain its pressure into the second quarter and stretch its lead to 36-27 going into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Putnam onslaught continued. The Beavers outscored Central 26-10 in the quarter to finally put the game out of reach. It outscored Central 22-6 in the fast break and 35-12 off turnovers in the game.
“I told the guys at halftime, Central is going to come out. They have pride,” said Putnam coach William Shepard. “They’re going to come out and fight, but it goes back to the foundation, what we do every day at practice. We’re going to sustain our energy and intensity for the full 32 minutes.
"Can they do that? Can they do the same? I told the guys we let them back into the game with unforced turnovers. Just keep playing Putnam basketball, keep the intensity, and they really followed through on that in the third quarter and really turned it out."
Putnam is back in action at the Hoophall Classic Saturday at noon at Blake Arena against Woodstock Academy (Conn.).
Battling Baldwin: One of the toughest tasks for any team playing Springfield Central is defending 6-foot-8 junior center Chris Baldwin. In its halfcourt offense, Baldwin can set up in the post to exploit a mismatch against smaller defenders. Defensively, he is the prototypical rim protecter and forceful rebounder every team hates facing.
Thursday night, Putnam used its transition offense as a way of neutralizing Baldwin. When it came down with a defensive rebound, it immediately pushed the ball up the floor and forced the big man to try and catch up. Often, he was behind the play, which gave Putnam an easy lane to the basket.
“We knew Chris coming into the game, he didn’t like to run up and down the court, and if he was going to run up and down the court, he was going to get fatigued,” said Ty Nichols. “We switched to our full court man defense and it kind of wore them down a little bit. That’s when we took control.”
On offense, Central wanted to slow the pace down and work in its halfcourt offense. To combat that, Putnam set up in a 3-2 zone to keep the ball away from Baldwin in the post and was more than happy to let Central shoot from the outside. The strategy worked as Central finished the game 6-for-25 from three.
“The kids were actually calling for me to stay in man defense, but what dictated me changing the defense was how the game was being called,” said Shephard. “We make adjustments to whatever is being called. Are they going to let us play or is going to be touchy? We got a couple of fouls early, so I went into the 3-2 and it worked a little bit.”
For most of the game, Tyonne Malone (13 points) and David Murrell (27 points, 12 rebounds) were charged with defending Baldwin in the post. Both players were at a height disadvantage to the Central junior.
“Ty had his moments there where he was getting a little frustrated and things weren’t going right for him,” said Shephard. “Dave has been playing against guys bigger than him since he got to Putnam, so that’s nothing new to him.”
Baldwin ended the game with 16 points and 8 rebounds.