SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Tuesday night was the first of three games in a six-day span for No. 1 Putnam Vocational, as the Beavers welcomed in undefeated Amherst.
The Hurricanes had a veteran lineup with size and athleticism on the interior. However, the roster lacked a true point guard, a death sentence for teams going up against the vaunted Putnam defense. In the first quarter, the Beavers had begun preparing Amherst’s last meal, jumping out to a double-digit lead en route to a 60-47 victory.
Putnam concludes the three-game stretch this weekend at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, renewing its Roosevelt Avenue rivalry with Springfield Central on Thursday before a Saturday night showdown against nationally-ranked Corona del Sol High School from Tempe, Ariz.
In the first quarter, Putnam (7-1) caught Amherst off guard by going with a 1-2-2 three-quarters court defense instead of its patented man-to-man, half-court defense. The new defensive formation was effective. Not only did it keep the ball out of the middle of the floor, it forced 8 first-quarter turnovers.
“When they were working hard at it, it was giving Amherst difficulties,” Putnam head coach William Shepard said. “These guys did a nice job coming out with the energy and intensity. [They] kind of let up in the second quarter, but I applauded their efforts.”
Amherst (7-1) came out in a 2-3 zone. The notion that Putnam is not a three-point shooting team has been refuted several times over the last calendar year. Once again on Tuesday night Putnam’s ball movement created some open looks in the first half; however, early on the Beavers settled for rushed shots rather than making the extra pass for a better look.
As the quarter wore on, Putnam was more patient on offense, resulting in a trio of threes -- two from Ki-Shawn Monroe and one from Jonathan Garcia, all of which came during a 14-2 run to close out the first quarter. Putnam sank seven 3-pointers on the evening.
“We practice against every type of zone,” Ty Nichols said. “I guess our shots were just falling tonight.”
Putnam was not only successful from beyond the arc, the offense also was able to get the ball into the heart of the defense with Tyonne Malone Jr. roaming the high post, looking to either drive to the basket or kick out to open teammates.
“I just took my time,” Malone said. “Just did was David Murrell did last year. Took it, turned around, look to see if it’s there. If it’s not, bring it back out.”
In the second quarter, Amherst began to settle in, and against a relaxed 1-2-2 pressure, was able to continually get the ball in the paint for high-percentage shots for Devonte McCall and Will Cuffee.
Inside of two minutes in the first half, Shepard elected to revert back to man-to-man defense to stop the bleeding.
Putnam came out of halftime more focused defensively, holding Amherst without a field goal for the first 4:50 of the second half. In the third quarter, Putnam would open up a 25-point lead at 51-26.
“I think we gave up six points in the first quarter and five points in the third quarter,” Shepard said. “If we do those type of things, I think we’ll be alright.”
To start the fourth quarter, Putnam ran a sideline out-of-bounds play, leading to a breakaway, one-handed dunk for Malone. The emphatic slam applied a exclamation point in Putnam’s 39th consecutive win over an in-state opponent.
Malone led all scorers with 17 points, rounding out his double-double with 11 boards. Nichols added 13 points and Carlos Gonzalez added a dozen. McCall had a team-high 13 for Amherst, followed by Cuffee with 12.
The 2015 Spalding Hoophall Classic begins on Thursday night at Springfield College with a quadruple-header of regional games. The nightcap -- scheduled for 8:30 p.m. -- will be between city foes Putnam and Central. In June, Putnam assistant coach Darryl Denson was hired as the new head coach of the Golden Eagles, adding another element to the rivalry.
On Saturday, Putnam closes out Day 3 of the five-day showcase against Corona del Sol, ranked No. 18 in the country by MaxPreps.com. The Aztecs feature one of the nation’s top freshmen in 6-foot-9 small forward Marvin Bagley, who according to ESPN Recruiting Nation already holds an offer from powerhouse Arizona. That game is scheduled to tip at 8 p.m.
“I like the stage the Hoophall Classic presents,” Shepard said. “It puts these kids in the spotlight. Wish we could have more things like that. I think they’ll enjoy the atmosphere that it brings, and it’s something that they deserve. They should be highlighted even more. These kids have accomplished some great things around here.”