Taconic boys basketball team falls to Putnam

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AMHERST — While many Western Massachusetts basketball teams have yet to start their regular season, Bill Heaphy's Taconic boys are 0-2.

Yet, in many ways, the defending Western Mass. Division II champion Braves could be ahead of the game.

Taconic lost 69-61 to Putnam on Saturday as part of the Pioneer Valley Tip-Off Classic at the Curry Hicks Cage on the campus of UMass.

Two days earlier, coach Heaphy took his squad the other direction into Albany and dropped a four-point decision to a charter school in Green Tech.

Two games in three days, both over an hour from Pittsfield, and Saturday's foe lost to Springfield Central in the Western Mass. D-I final a year ago.

The experienced Braves certainly didn't want to ease into the season.

"These were probably two of the toughest teams we'll play all year and we learned what we need to do, and more importantly, what he need to work on," said forward Isaac Percy.

The Braves players stood alone in a makeshift locker room under the stands discussing where exactly the problems lie.

"Just having the mentality throughout the whole game," Percy said. "We played scared that first half. We just need to play strong and have that scoring mentality all game."

It was a slow start for the Braves, who weren't getting back in transition nor cleaning up the defensive glass. With three minutes left in the second quarter, both Rudy Hytmiah and Taelon Martin of Putnam grabbed defensive rebounds and went coast-to-coast for layups to set Taconic back 28-19. Less than a minute later, GaVaughnt English got a second chance at a 3-pointer and buried it for the double-digit lead.

The Braves trailed 36-25 at intermission, and despite Heaphy's halftime speech echoing through a quiet Cage, Martin connected with English for a back-door alley-oop dunk to open the third quarter.

Martin was a problem for Taconic throughout. The senior point guard penetrated relentlessly and was finding open men for threes from both corners. The Putnam lead ballooned to 15. Heaphy tried a litany of defenders on him, before reserve Anton Wright started having some success with staying in front.

A couple turnovers led to buckets by Percy at the other end. He scored 15 of his game-high 21 in the middle quarters and was 4 of 4 at the free-throw line. He got a putback to go down and then came away with a steal and basket at the other end to make it 45-36 with 2:10 left in the third.

Christian Womble drilled a corner three to draw the Braves within eight, but Hytmiah flashed some of that D-I athleticism and took a defensive rebound to Taconic's rim in under six seconds for the 53-40 lead after three.

Taconic made just one 3-pointer in the first half, against five triples for Putnam. In the fourth quarter, the Braves tried evening that out, with Womble hitting again and then Quincy Davis stepping into one from deep. That opened things up inside a bit for Mohammed Sanogo, who scored five of his 16 points in the final frame.

Quintin Gittens, who had been whistled for a charge earlier for running through Martin, executed a textbook eurostep around his counterpart with 4:57 left. He completed the three-point play and the Braves were within seven. Percy sank a pair of foul shots not long after, and Taconic had cut the deficit to 58-53.

"There were a lot of things we need to work on, especially towards the end there," said Putnam coach William Shepard. "Guys got a little lazy there and intensity went down. You see that these guys can get out and run, and it's 'OK, so where is your intensity.' Got to be consistent, but that begins with me at practice."

Martin responded with a 3-pointer to stem the tide, and the error-free quarter Taconic had been playing slipped up. The Braves turned it over 19 times in the game, four of which came in the final three minutes of play.

"You can't play in this game, half the game," said Heaphy. "Our first half we were sleepwalking, and they're a tough team to come back on.

"Our second half was a better effort, but not enough."

———

Putnam (69)

Hytmiah 5-3-14, Martin 5-0-12, Green 5-0-11, English 4-0-10, Villa 2-0-4, Martinez 3-2-10, Jernigan 4-0-8. Totals 28-5-69.

Taconic (61)

Gittens 3-7-13, Davis 1-0-3, Percy 8-4-21, McCown 0-0-0, Sanogo 7-2-16, Womble 2-1-7, Tayi 0-1-1, Wright 0-0-0, Lazits 0-0-0, Moody 0-0-0, Cross 0-0-0. Totals 21-15-61.

3-point goals — P 8 (English 2, Martinez 2, Martin 2, Green, Hytmiah); T 4 (Womble 2, Davis, Percy).

Mike Walsh can be reached at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.


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