(Banner Graphic/GRANT WIEMAN) [Order this photo]
It's said that defense wins championships and if Friday was any indication, North Putnam should feel pretty good about the approaching postseason tournament. The Cougars seized their final lead of the night with 30 seconds on the clock on an outstanding play in the backcourt.
After senior Jameson Brewer cut the lead to 49-48 in favor of the Eagles, the Cougars pressured the Eagles in the backcourt. South Putnam junior guard Sawyer Arnold struggled to get the ball over the mid-court line and when the chance presented itself, North Putnam's junior Bennett Hazelgrove dove, stole the ball and fired a pass to senior Zach Green for the go-ahead bucket.
North Putnam iced the game with four straight free throws to score its third win in a row.
"It was huge," NPHS coach Nathan Martindale said of Hazelgrove's play. "We've talked with our guards and told them they have to be the scrappiest suckers on the floor and Ben got on the floor, got us a steal and got us a kick for a layup. That's an energizer. Those are energizing plays that kids feed off of."
Defense was the theme of the night for the Cougars. Martindale lost starting senior guard Shane Beaman early in the first half, which threw a kink in the game plan.
"I tell you what, we lost Shane (Beaman) in the first half and that put us thin at the guard position because he was going to be the main guy on (Sawyer) Arnold," Martindale said. "Zach (Green) got that assignment for most of the game. Arnold got hot in the third going into the fourth and you could see Zach was getting a little fatigued, so it would have been nice to have Shane at full strength there, but other guys stepped up.
"Zach Green hit a bit three, Jordan (Nauert) had good game on the outside and we got some good production from the post guys. It was an all-around team effort."
The Eagles started the game cold, which allowed the Cougars to take an early lead and cruise to a 29-21 lead at halftime. South Putnam got hot in the second quarter evened the Cougars' tally of 16 points in the quarter.
The Eagles continued to find their way the third quarter. Arnold, who was held scoreless in the first half, found his shot and scored seven of the Eagles' 10 points in the quarter. South Putnam outscored the Cougars 10-8 and closed the gap to six at 37-31.
In the final period, Arnold and junior Trey Moore led the South Putnam charge that saw the Eagles take the lead on back-to-back buckets from Arnold. However, North Putnam continued to scrap and got the lift they needed on Hazelgrove's heads up defensive play to change the game.
South Putnam head coach Troy Burgess acknowledged that Friday's loss was a tough one. He thought his squad let North Putnam score too quickly to cut the gap and said they have to take care of the ball better. But even with the loss, he was happy of the effort he saw.
"I'm proud of our kids," Burgess said. "For a night when I didn't think we played exceptionally well, the kids still hung in there and battled. They never gave up, never quit and gave ourselves a chance to win. And that's all you can ask for at the end of the game.
"You have to give North Putnam a lot of credit. When we took that lead, they could have hung their head and they didn't. I give them credit. They made plays down the stretch when they needed to and we didn't."
South Putnam hosts Indianapolis Shortridge tonight at 7:30 p.m. And Burgess said it will show what his team is made of. He pointed out that Friday's loss comes at a critical point of the season where a team can hit the skids or rally together and be playing their best ball as the tournament approaches.
The Cougars will host South Vermillion tonight at 7:30 p.m. And will look to continue its winning streak. According to Martindale, his team is happy, but not content with where they are.
"We're feeling pretty good where we're at. We're not satisfied, but we're feel good with what progress we've made," he said.
At South Putnam
North Putnam 13 16 8 17 -- 54
South Putnam 5 16 10 18 -- 49
North Putnam -- Brewer 15, Nauert 13, Haste 11, Green 9, Hazelgrove 4, Flynn 2. Totals: 20-52 FG, 11-14 FT, 54 TP.
South Putnam -- Arnold 15, Moore 12, Vittetow 9, Chestnut 6, Bumgardner 4, Long 2. Totals: 18-54 FG, 10-15 FT, 49 TP.