WORCESTER, Mass. –- Putnam sophomore Ty Nichols stepped to the line and calmly sank both of his free throws with just 7.5 seconds left in overtime.
Those two simple free throws ended as the difference in a wild, thrilling game, giving Putnam a 50-48 win over Mansfield and the Beaver’s their first ever D1 State Championship.
“I stepped to the line and my team had confidence in me,” Nichols said. “My coaches had confidence in me. I’ve been hitting free throws all year and I just took them as regular free throws and they went in.”
Mansfield’s Rocky DeAndrade sprinted up the court, but his jumper was short and Putnam celebrated their first state title in school history.
“It definitely feels great,” Putnam’s Kayjuan Bynum said. “We expected to be here, we expected to play our hearts out and try to come out with a state championship, which we did.”
The Beavers looked like they were ready to win in regulation, up 40-33 with just over 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Mansfield’s Michael Boen came up with a big offensive board and put back while being fouled. His free throw pulled the Hornets within 4. Both teams traded empty trips before Boen hit a corner three to pull within one at 40-39 with 35.7 seconds left.
After Bynum sank two free throws to put Putnam up 42-39, Mansfield’s Ryan Boulter was fouled while shooting a three with just 5.5 seconds left. The sophomore sank all three shots and Putnam wasn’t able to get a shot off before the buzzer.
In overtime, Bynum sank two free throws only to have Boulter answer with a three to give Mansfield a 45-44 lead. Two more free throws from Bynum followed by a layup from Nichols put Putnam up 48-45.
Mansfield answered yet again, this time with 19.9 seconds left when Boulter again drained a three.
But as time ticked away in overtime, it was Nichols’ drive to the basket that drew the foul that ended as the difference.
Mansfield was just 6-of-29 from downtown, but had 19 turnovers, due in large part to a tough Putnam defense.
“At halftime, we spoke about not having hit our stride yet defensively,” Putnam head coach William Shepard said. “We’ve held teams to single digit scoring in a quarter consistently all year. When they came out and held them to 7 points in the third quarter, I could see our guys take a collective breath and say ‘OK, we can do this.’”
Bynum finished with a game-high 15 points, including a perfect 8-8 performance from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and overtime. Boulter finished with 14 for Mansfield, nine of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“Hats off to Putnam with their defensive effort,” Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan said. “They did a great job, they took things away.”
Putnam finished the season 24-1 with their first ever D1 State Championship. Mansfield finishes 25-3.
“I almost cried, but I stopped myself from crying,” Nichols said. “This feels good, Putnam’s first state championship, this feels good.”
A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR BOTH
Although both Putnam and Mansfield will be losing key seniors to graduation, it’s not out of the question that either team could make a return trip next season.
The 2013 D1 State Champions will only lose one starter, Bynum, and will graduate three others. Mansfield will lose five seniors, but none bigger than senior captain Greg Romanko.
For the Beavers, Dizel Wright and David Murrell (13 and 11 points respectively) will look to lead Putnam to a return trip. Sophomore starters Jonathan Garcia and Ki-shawn Monroe will join classmate Ty Nichols again next year.
The Hornets return a solid core, with sophomores Brendan Hill, the reigning Hockomock League MVP, and Ryan Boulter joining a slew of juniors –- Michael Boen, Kyle Wisnieski, Rocky DeAndrade, Kevin Conner, and Michael Hershman -– ready to take over the reigns of this team.
“This is going to sting for a few days,” Vaugahan said. ”After we wake up in a couple of days, we can make this motivation for next season to get back here. As we said, this isn’t easy. We hope we have an opportunity to represent the South again next year.
"It’s not an easy road and there are a lot of good teams coming back next year. We’re going to show up three days after Thanksgiving and get ready to do this all over again."