Blustery weather greeted the start to the Putnam County Classic Friday night. It didn't take long for fans trying the shake off the chill of December to get warmed up with some hot action on the court though.
South Putnam advanced to the championship game of the Classic with their 67-59 win over North Putnam.
Like any great contest between rivals, the opening contest came down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter and left fans on their feet cheering as the final horn sounded.
After a hot start in the first half, it came down to the foul line for the Eagles. They converted 18-of-25 free throws down the stretch in the final period to come away with the win.
The first half saw the Eagles build a 16-4 lead after one and held off a pressuring Cougar squad to take a 26-18 advantage into the half.
Both teams came out with something to prove and laid everything on the line. Unfortunately for North, the first half saw one player collect three fouls, with four others taking two each into the locker room. Both coaches commented after the game of how they were proud with their team's effort in the contest
"I'm proud of their effort," Cougar head coach Brady Armstrong said. "(It was a) rough start and that's what beat us. You can't get down like that against them because they have a few more inches in the interior. It's just tough without Griffen Dahlstrom." Dahlstrom is currently out of the Cougar lineup as he nurses a sore shoulder.
Eagles' head coach Micah Elliott echoed Armstrong's sentiment and singled out the start of the second half as being significant in South Putnam's progression as a team.
As Elliott indicated, the Cougars hit the court after the break and torched the nets early.
Corey Dean hit a three to get the scoring going, Mitchell Crum added a two to keep it rolling and a three from Kyle Alcorn left no doubt that the second half was going to be a battle. The Cougars' 18 third quarter points equaled their total output in the first half.
The third quarter ended with essentially a five-point play by South's Noah Boswell. Boswell converted a shot while fouled by North's Scott Hunt, who protested the call and was charged with a technical. Boswell knocked down his foul shot and the two technical shots and the Eagles entered the fourth with a nine-point advantage.
"We wanted to run and when you have fouls you can't run. It took away our gameplan to be honest with you," Armstrong noted.
The Cougars outscored the Eagles 23-22 in the fourth, but Conor Frame knocking down 10-14 in the final quarter to pace the Eagles.
Even in defeat, Armstrong saw a glimpse of what his team can be and likes what he is seeing.
"Our kids from last week to this week, in so many ways have improved fundamentally," Armstrong said. "We're scoring the ball better, we're cutting better and they played with passion. Not proud of the result, it's not good enough; we're not going to accept that anymore."
South Putnam collected 17 turnovers on the night, a far cry from their 34 against Edgewood in their last game.
Asked about what he is seeing out of his squad on the court, Elliott alluded to the fact that they are beginning to understand the offense and are making quick, decisive decisions when they present themselves.
"Things are starting to click," Elliot said. "You can see them thinking out there and we need to take that thinking and turn that into reaction and that's going to take more than four weeks of the season. We'll get there. We got a lot better tonight and that's the important thing."
Looking ahead to the championship game, Elliott says the Eagles need to worry about what they do. They need to execute their gameplan before they worry about anyone else's.
South Putnam will face Greencastle in the championship of the County Classic at 8 p.m. North Putnam will face Cloverdale in the consolation game beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Putnam County Classic
North Putnam 4 14 18 23 -- 59
South Putnam 16 10 19 22 -- 67
North Putnam -- Crum 19, Alcorn 12, Dean 12, Ban 6, Adams 4, Hunt 2, Hedrick 2, Jones 2. Totals: FG 13-36 FT 19-21 TP 59.
South Putnam -- Boswell 23, Frame 14, Nelson 8, Dean 7, Chestnut 6, Welty 5, Masters 2, Cash 2. Totals: FG 15-29 FT 31-42 TP 67.
3pt FG -- NP (Crum 4, Dean 4, Alcorn 2), SP (Welty, Boswell).
Next game -- South Putnam will face Greencastle in the championship of the County Classic at 8 p.m. North Putnam will face Cloverdale in the consolation game beginning at 6:30 p.m.