ROACHDALE -- Sitting at 0-3 on the season and still learning a new system, the North Putnam boys' basketball team really didn't need to see Rockville rolling in to the gym on Friday night. The Rox came into the game at 2-0 and ranked No. 1 in class A.
The Rox also have four varsity players taller than anyone on the Cougar roster.
The height difference showed, as Rockville defeated North Putnam 87-56, led by 35 points from 6-foot-8 center R.J. Mahurin. The Rox showed why they are ranked at the top of class A.
But the Cougars, even in defeat, showed something very important as well -- grit. After a five-point first quarter, there was no sign of quit in them. Trailing 47-21 at the half, a lot of teams would have mailed it in for the second half, but not the Cougars.
"Our kids are fighters. They don't ever quit," Cougar coach Brady Armstrong said. "They're winners in football; they've hardly ever lost in football. They just came out and decided that together they were going to get some stops and make it a little bit tough on Rockville."
And make it tough they did. With the outside shots not falling, and Mahurin's long frame on the bench early in the quarter, North's guards were able to take the ball inside. Buckets from seniors Scott Hunt, Mitchell Crum and Jerrett Ban began to cut into the Rockville lead.
While the Cougars were never able to seriously challenge for the lead, they were able to play an outstanding third quarter. Listening to Armstrong after the game, his praises sounded like a laundry list of coaches' favorite subjects -- defense, rebounding, second chance points, fewer turnovers and, most importantly, execution and attitude.
"Our kids are running our sets a little bit better with our ball screen series. The execution was a little bit better and we won that quarter," Armstrong said. "They pretty much said, 'Let's get out. We're not quitting and we're going to fight them.' That's pretty much their attitude.
"We were moving a little bit better on defense. We actually beat them on the glass, which is amazing, considering their length. We just weren't quitting," he added.
Perhaps most notably, North cut its turnover total in half from the first to second half, committing 10 before the break and cutting it to five after.
"We limited it in the second half. In the first half, their length really bothered us. They're really long and athletic, and it's just easy for them. They're just an extremely good team that can contend for state," he said. "We talk about vertical passes and we were throwing sideline passes. You can't throw sideline passes against them."
Another thing that plagued North in the first half was Mahurin. While 25 of his points came before the break, he did the most damage from outside, a surprise for someone his size. The big man opened the game by making five of his first six shots from distance.
Matt King also did his share of damage, pouring in 19 points for the Rox. No other Rockville player had more than six, but 11 players got on the board.
For North Putnam, Crum was the leading scorer with 15. Hunt was next with 11, and Ban and Kyle Adams each added nine.
In just their fourth game with Armstrong, and considering that Crum and Hunt are both transfers, the Cougars are looking more comfortable together on the court, even when the results against such a good opponent don't show it.
"We're gelling. We're finding some people that can do some things for us on the floor," Armstrong said. "Scott Hunt was really good tonight. He played a great game for us.
"If we can get minutes like that from Scott and start gelling at the guard front with Mitchell Crum and Alcorn and Ban, then we're going to be okay. I still think in March we can be a pretty good team," he added.
Another key as they move forward will be health. North still hasn't gotten last year's leading scorer Griffen Dahlstrom back from a football injury. A full team should also help their continued development.
"We've had guys injured pretty much all season. We have guys still banged up from football," Armstrong said. "If you watch our tapes we've gotten much better. I know the results aren't coming through for us, but this was the first game we were probably completely out of because of how good they were."
The Cougars (0-4, 0-0 WCC) host Crawfordsville at 7:30 p.m. today.
At North Putnam
Rockville 24 23 16 24 -- 87
North Putnam 5 16 18 17 -- 56
Rockville -- Mahurin 12-20 6-6 35, King 5-9 6-8 19, Kelley 3-5 0-0 6, Parsons 2-3 1-6 5, Bradburn 2-4 0-0 5, Bridge 2-5 0-0 5, Reed 1-5 2-3 4, Lear 1-1 0-0 2, McMullen 1-2 0-0 2, Wake 1-2 0-0 2, Jeffries 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 30-48 FG, 17-25 FT, 87 points.
North Putnam -- Crum 5-12 3-4 15, Hunt 5-10 1-2 11, Ban 4-6 1-3 9, Adams 4-9 1-3 9, Jones 2-4 0-2 5, Dean 1-6 0-0 3, Hedrick 1-1 0-0 2, Franklin 1-4 0-2, Spencer 0-1 0-0 0, Alcorn 0-4 0-2 0. Totals: 23-57 FG, 6-18 FT, 56 points.
3-pt. FG -- Rox 10-22 (Mahurin 5-10, King 3-5, Bradburn 1-1, Bridge 1-2) NP 4-19 (Crum 2-4, Jones 1-3, Dean 1-6). Turnovers -- Rox 11, NP 15. Team fouls -- Rox 16, NP 18.
Next game -- North Putnam (0-4, 0-0 WCC) hosts Crawfordsville at 7:30 p.m. today.