St. Thomas More loses tough battle with Putnam Science Academy

Montville — St. Thomas More made life miserable for one of the top prep basketball programs in the country before a standing room only crowd on Monday night.

The Chancellors were just too overmatched physically and athletically to complete the upset bid.

They held Putnam Science Academy roughly 15 points under its scoring average in the 65-54 loss.

"You play Putnam Science and they score 65 points, I'm believing that we're winning that game," STM coach Jere Quinn said. "I've got to give my kids lots of love for their toughness."

It was an entertaining and hotly contested game that remained tight until the Mustangs (26-3) shook free in the final minutes.

Tempers flared late, as officials stopped the game with 00.8 seconds remaining. Four technical fouls were called, two on each team.

"When you play them, you know they're going to play really hard and you know it's going to be a fun crowd," Quinn said. "They're certainly always going to be more athletic than we are and they're certainly going to be more physical than we are.

"And we kind of got away from the way we need to play. ... The second half we took seven or eight shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, which is not how we're going to be successful, because they got inside our kids' heads."

Jair Currie finished with 15 points while Justin Hemphill chipped in 10 points and 11 rebounds and Elijah Perry added 10 points and six rebounds for the Chancellors, who missed a couple players due to injuries.

Defensively, the Chancellors did what they needed to do to win. Relying on a mix of toughness and tenacity, they limited the Mustangs to just 17 points in the first 19 minutes. They led by as many as 10 before settling for a 26-21 edge at halftime.

Their lead should have been bigger, Quinn said.

"It was 8-7 for a year and a half, "Quinn said. "We had some many opportunities to extend that, but we didn't."

Neither team shot the ball well, sinking seven field goals apiece before intermission.

"They couldn't score and we couldn't score, so it was just a dogfight," PSA coach Tom Espinosa said. "Neither team gave up. It was pretty much a 40-minute battle. Jere does a great job. His kids, they were prepared to play us. They played outstanding and with a lot of energy."

The Mustangs gradually seized control in the second half by dominating under the basket. The powerful duo of Josh Gray (12 points) and Vladislav Goldin, who's headed to Texas Tech, protected the rim and seemed to grab every rebound at times.

PSA had 15 offensive rebounds in just the second half.

"That's our game," Espinosa said. "The second half, we started getting the ball more to our bigs. The rebounding was the difference."

Still, St. Thomas More clung to a slim lead until about the 10:30 mark. Terrell Ard Jr. scored inside to finally push the Mustangs in front, 36-34. They gradually extended the gap to seven on Gray's rebound basket.

The Chancellors closed the gap to 53-51 on Currie's 3-pointer with 2:09 remaining. But the Mustangs made their free throws down the stretch.

"We didn't hit any threes and we didn't make any foul shots, and it's a game with five minutes to go," Quinn said. "So, you've got to give our kids a lot of credit."

g.keefe@theday.com

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