That made all the difference in the opening game of the Putnam County Tournament Friday night where the host Eagles defeated North Putnam 61-51.
The opening quarter saw the Eagles jump out to a 16-3 lead after one and put North Putnam squarely behind the eight ball. The Cougars struggled on the boards and South Putnam was more than happy to mop up rebound after rebound and turn them into points.
South Putnam senior Oceaia Boetjer collected eight points in the opening quarter, including to shots from beyond the arc to pace the Eagles. Brooke Boetjer added four points of her own.
In the second quarter, North Putnam began to chip away at the lead and trimmed in to 10 points at 20-10, but South was able to hit some key shots to extend its lead to 33-13 entering the half.
Cougar head coach Kevin Smith acknowledged the rebounding issue as a key factor in the outcome of the first two quarters.
"We struggled a little bit in the first half rebounding which is something we usually do very well," Smith said. "Through our first three games, rebounding was the best aspect of what we had accomplished. We struggled rebounding in the first half and gave them way too many put backs, which made us dig a hole.
"I kept telling the girls that they're not going to continue to shoot the ball this way and after that they didn't," he added.
On the flipside, South Putnam head coach Debbie Steffy was enthusiastic about the way her team took the court from the opening tip.
"The first quarter was the best basketball we've played all season," she noted. "The kids came out fired up. We changed up a little bit. We pressed at the beginning of the game, the past two games we haven't done that and I think that helped us too. I thought they worked hard, their rotations were pretty good on the press and that was key for us to be able to get back and not give up easy lay-ups and stuff like that."
The Cougar squad that took the court after the break was a far different team than the one the crowd saw in the first half.
North Putnam came out and played at a breakneck pace and definitely set the tone for the second half. They began to dig out of their hole as Elsiana Crosby got North on the board by knocking down a 3-pointer and a two-pointer. Teammate Carlye McGaughey followed with a bucket of her own to keep the Cougars moving in the right direction. North Putnam outscored the Eagles 18-16 and had clearly moved the momentum into their corner.
North Putnam carried their newfound fire into the fourth and continued to improve.
The pace slowed, but North found ways to score, even after losing Taylor Alles early in the quarter. Leah Crosby picked up the slack and was one of three Cougars to score eight points. Dakota Malayer and McGaughey added some big buckets as the clock ticked away, but South Putnam connected on eight free throws in the final quarter to seal the win.
Smith noted that the second half turned into more of a back and forth type game and even though his team gave up some buckets he liked what he was seeing. He also spoke of how close he thought his girls came to giving the Eagles a run for their money.
"In that second half I think there were a lot of times that we were just one shot away from really turning the corner," he said. "We'd get it to 10, but we couldn't get it to seven. We'd get it to nine and we just couldn't get it to six. I felt like we got close, but we couldn't just get over that hump."
He also said he thought the girls were a little tight to start the game, but found themselves in the second half. The Cougars hit an impressive 14-of-15 from the free throw line in the second half.
Steffy acknowledged that North Putnam kept coming at the Eagles and that she saw some areas where her team needs to work on in the future.
"To North Putnam's credit, they didn't give up either," she said. "We were forced to keep composure the whole game and we didn't do a very good job of it. That's something we'll need to work on, putting 32 minutes together."
The Eagles will face Greencastle, who defeated Cloverdale 47-18, for the championship tonight. Asked about how tough it is to carry momentum over to another night, Steffy said that it assaults players on two fronts and she hopes her squad is up to the challenge.
"It will be tough," she said. "They're good basketball teams, so we have to be prepared whoever it is. As far as being able to come out the next night and do that -- it is tough. It's tough for the kids mentally and physically. Tomorrow night will be one of those tests of who will be physically and mentally ready and hopefully that will be us."
South Putnam will face Greencastle for the Putnam County Tournament title tomorrow at 8 p.m. North Putnam will face Cloverdale in the consolation game beginning at 6:30 p.m.
At South Putnam
Putnam County Tournament
North Putnam 3 10 18 20 -- 51
South Putnam 16 17 16 12 -- 61
North Putnam -- E. Crosby 9, McGaughey 8, Malayer 8, L. Crosby 8, Robinson 6, Kumaran 5, Alles 5, Frye 2. Totals: FG 14-58 FT 18-26 TP 51.
South Putnam -- O. Boetjer 23, B. Boetjer 15, Jes. Thompson 8, Searles 6, Burnham 4, Dabkowski 2, Minor 2, Douglas 1. Totals: FG 21-46 FT 15-29 TP 61.
3pt. FG -- O. Boetjer 3, Jes. Thompson (SP), Malayer 2, E. Crosby, Kumaran.
Next game -- South Putnam will face Greencastle for the Putnam County Tournament title tomorrow at 8 p.m. North Putnam will face Cloverdale in the consolation game beginning at 6:30 p.m.