Warriors grease ‘The Machine’
If you were at Zephyr Cove on Wednesday night for the Whittell boys basketball team’s 62-45 win over Yerington, you just might have confused the GWHS squad with a 1965 Ford Mustang. Because the Warriors, chasing the final berth in the zone tournament, certainly looked like a well-lubed machine running on all five cylinders in an efficient – and crucial – division win.
“Something just snapped in us,” said Whittell center James Putnam, who had a game-high 17 points. “I think we just got used to winning and it’s just clicked ever since.”
Whittell (10-11 overall, 5-4 in Nevada 3A Division II) added to its lead in each quarter and did not let the Lions get within double-digits for most of the game. Despite leading the Lions from start to finish, the Warriors kept up their intensity until the final buzzer, diving on the floor for steals and playing aggressive defense even in the late stages of the fourth quarter.
Putnam stole the show, displaying a repertoire of inside and post moves that have allowed him to average nearly 20 points per game this season. The six-foot-five senior possesses a rare, combination of speed, quickness and agility in a big man.
“It gives me so much more confidence when I’m free to experiment like that,” Putnam said. “I want to go out there and play my (butt) off every game because we’re so close to the playoffs.”
Twice against the Lions, Putnam faked three-pointers, only to drive and spin to the basket for an easy conversion. In other instances, he turned catch-and-shoot post plays into his personal clinic, converting a handful of three- and four-footers with relative ease. In several instances, he was able to follow his own missed shots as if it were the pregame shootaround.
Putnam also plays with a lot of emotion, a trait that seems to carry over to the rest of his team. Apocotos complemented Putnam’s stellar inside play with 15 points and three steals. Maltase also lauded the play of Todd ‘Torque’ Echan, whom he labeled the “team’s best performer” over the past two weeks.
The win improved Whittell’s league mark (5-4) above .500 for the first time this season. It also set the stage for a pivotal three-game set to end the division schedule. Wins in the final three contests (Manogue, Hawthorne on the road and Lovelock at home) can either send the Warriors to the 3A zone tournament or render the team’s current four-game winning streak meaningless.
“I think these guys know how things can go from what we went through earlier in the season,” Maltase said. “We’re trying to keep things in the present. Until we get in the playoffs and show up for our game, the guys won’t think that we’re there.”
Maltase’s squad jumped on the Lions from the get-go, opening the game with a 14-6 first-quarter lead. Putnam did most of the damage, using his finesse and size to convert a quarter of short jumpers and layups. Yerington converted only two field goals in the game’s first eight minutes.
Whittell continued to keep the pressure on in the second half and entered the break with a 31-20 lead. The Warriors took a decisive 46-29 lead into the final quarter.
“This is one of my last games on this floor,” said Acopotos, a senior, following the game. “It feels really good to get a win like this. It’s been a while since we really blown out a team.”
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