If anything was abundantly clear Friday night at Putnam County High School, it was if an opponent is going to come into The Eagles’ Nest and play the War Eagles on their home court, they best be prepared for a never-say-quit attitude from the home team, especially on a Friday night before a packed house and a raucous crowd.
Trailing region foe and rival Monticello by as many as 13 points, the War Eagles (3-10, 2-2) were all gas and no brakes as they stormed back to win a thrilling 62-54 decision over the Hurricanes to start the new year on a high note in Region 8-AA hoops action.
Senior Rodney Daniel knocked down 28 points in the win but in the end and the decisive fourth quarter, it was the clutch free throw shooting of sophomore Malik Thornton that proved to be the Achilles’ heel for Monticello. Thornton had 16 points in the game but 10 in the final period, including 8-for-8 from the charity strip while converting three and-ones that proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“It felt good out there,” Thornton said after the game. “The crowd made a difference and we made a difference. It just takes us playing together and playing as a team.”
It was a totally energized team effort that propelled Putnam to victory despite falling behind early in the first quarter all the while staying the course and working hard to overcome the deficit and find a way to get the big region win.
“They are our rivalry so it felt good to get a region win and a win over a rival,” said Daniel. “We feed off what the crowd gives us and after a couple of losses, we have realized what we have to do every night.”
After the opening period, Putnam trailed 15-10 and 26-13 at the 2:00 mark of the second frame. A 7-2 run behind two Daniel buckets and a tray from Thornton inched the War Eagles closer at intermission, down 28-20 with 16 minutes of basketball left.
With 5:24 showing in the third stanza, Putnam was on a 17-5 run, including the end of the second, and pulled to within 1 at 31-30. Monticello responded and pulled out to a 40-34 edge with 2:55 left in the third quarter. Both teams quieted in the closing minutes and the Hurricanes held a tenuous 44-38 advantage at the end of three but the crowd was heated up and ready for the final chapter in the game.
The War Eagles felt the energy and it showed as they put together another run, this time 8-2 to knot the game at 46 with 4:10 left in regulation.
The Hurricanes dropped in a pair from the free throw line and went ahead 48-46 at 4:05. Back came Putnam behind Thornton’s first and-one conversion and a strong, battling rebound put-back by freshman Tra’ Smith to give the War Eagles their first lead of the night at 50-48 with a hair over three minutes left.
After a Monticello timeout at 3:07, Thornton struck again from the line and Putnam crept ahead 52-48. A Hurricane tray at 2:40 cut the Putnam edge to 52-51 and with 1:31 left to play. Another Monticello 3-point bomb tied the game at 54-54. Back came Putnam.
War Eagles freshman Eren Banks cashed in on a runner in the lane for a 56-54 edge and, after a Hurricane turnover on a rebound, both teams had two timeouts left. With 36 ticks left in the contest, Banks missed a 10-foot jumper and Daniel grabbed the long rebound and put the ball back in the bucket for a 58-54 margin with 28.6 seconds to go.
From there, Putnam sealed the deal with two more Thornton free throws at 15.4 seconds to go and a driving layup down the length of the court by Daniel drove the final nail in the box at the buzzer for the hard-fought 62-54 region victory much to the delight of the packed house on hand.
“The effort is there. We still have to find a way to close it out,” said Putnam head coach Kerry English. “When I say close it out, I think we let them get to the basket for some easy shots. We need to recognize the shooters better and not let them get those open looks. We’re just trying to keep getting better because the effort is there. I know they feel the crowd’s energy but I want them to stay focused on what we got going on the bench.”
Lady War Eagles regain winning ways, beat Monticello 54-36
Following a non-conference defeat at the Turner County Christmas tournament, the Putnam County Lady War Eagles (11-2, 3-1) returned home last Friday night after the holiday break and overcame a sluggish start to best the Monticello Lady Hurricanes 54-36 in Region 8-AA play.
With the victory, Putnam sits squarely tied for second in the region with Union County behind Rabun County.
The showdown with Union County last Saturday at The Eagles’ Nest was postponed due to inclement weather in the north Georgia mountains. A rescheduled date has not been announced by the athletic department at the school as of press time.
“We played a little sluggish,” said Putnam girls head coach Jerusha Hudson. “The speed was not there that I’m used to seeing. A lot of times when you’ve been on break and the kids haven’t been in school, that’s what happens.”
After knocking off a little early rust, the Lady War Eagles led 11-7 after one quarter of play. In the second frame, senior Zakyrah Harper paced Putnam with 8 points to a 32-19 margin at intermission.
The game, unlike Lady War Eagle standards, showed some inconsistency and a little streakiness in the second half. Monticello outscored Putnam 8-4 in the third frame but senior Jashanti Simmons sparked the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 18 points followed by Harper with 10. Putnam won the final frame 18-9 to seal the victory.
“We had some spurts and it just took a little while, that’s all,” Hudson said. “A win is a win whether it is by 1 point or 5 points. I’ll take it.”
Following a date with Elbert on the road Tuesday, Putnam County will return to The Eagles’ Nest for a big region match-up on Friday against Rabun County on “Pink Out” Night followed by a showdown with Oconee County at The Nest on Saturday.
The Lady War Eagles tip off at 6 p.m. each night followed by the War Eagles at 7:30 p.m.