Mar 15, 2014
Junior guard Alex Putnam hit a three-pointer from 25 feet as time expired Saturday to give Bishop McGuinness a 61-58 win over Riverside Williamston in the 1A women's state championship game.
If head coach Brian Robinson had his way in the closing seconds, Putnam wouldn't have even had the ball.
"The play was supposed to go to anyone but Alex. She was supposed to take the ball out," Robinson quipped following the game. "It ended up in her hands. Sometimes, things like that happen. It was an amazing shot."
Moments earlier, it looked like Bishops McGuinness' run of eight consecutive titles would come to an end.
Riverside's Kayla Jones stepped to the line with five seconds to play with the score tied at 58. The freshman had 31 points, and Bishop McGuinness hadn't been able to stop her at all.
But Jones missed both foul shots, the second one rimming slowly out of the basket, and Putnam grabbed the ball.
She made her way up the court, releasing a desperation heave from the western tip of the North Carolina emblem in the middle of the court with just over 1 second to play. The ball hit the back iron, but bounced softly forward and fell through the hoop.
"I saw that it was on line, but I didn't think it would go in," a shocked but smiling Putnam said following the game. "I don't even think I saw it go through."
But it did go through, and Putnam was swarmed by her Bishop McGuinness teammates. Robinson joked that the moment had him feeling like North Carolina State's Jim Valvano following the Wolfpack's 1983 win over Houston in the NCAA Championship Game.
"I was out there looking for someone to hug," he joked. "I was all by myself."
Prior to the dramatic ending, the Villains and Knights traded big plays throughout. Bishop McGuinness was efficient in the opening minutes, relying on the scoring of senior forward Julia Brown and stifling defense to build a 17-9 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Early in the second, that trend continued, and the Villains' lead grew to 24-11 midway through the frame.
Riverside's pressure defense began to take a toll in the closing minutes before halftime, allowing the Knights to close to within three points at 24-21. Leading scorer Kayla Jones also got going, scoring 7 points in the final 3:30.
After a 12-2 Riverside run in the third quarter, the sides pulled even early in the fourth. No team led by more than four points in the final eight minutes.
"The game was pretty equivalent to what our season has been like, we've just found ways to win games," Robinson said. "When Kayla Jones was shooting those free throws, I honestly said in my head, 'How are are we going to get out of this one?'"
Brown and Jones also traded blows throughout. The senior leader of the Villains finished with 26 points and 7 rebounds, earning MVP honors, and Jones tallied 31 points, 14 rebounds and seven steals in the loss to capture a most outstanding player award.
"This is the only way we wanted it to end," Brown said. "Just to continue the legacy, to know that your year was the year you kept it going."
Bishop McGuinness senior Cameron Nieters said the experiences of playing in previous state championship games and close games throughout the season helped the Villains maintain their composure in the final minutes of Saturday's contest.
"We played in a bunch of close games, so I think we've gotten used to being calm when other teams may freak out a bit," she said. "We were just calm going into it, and I think composure is a big part of winning close games."
Riverside head coach Kirby Maness said he couldn't have asked for more of his team.
"I wish it wouldn't have come down to a last second shot. If you take away the first few minutes of the game, we outplayed them," he said. "They just hit a shot at the right time. We put ourselves in position to win the game, but the ball didn't bounce our way."
Maness said he never doubted that his team would find a way to win until Putnam's shot fell.
"Up until that ball went in, I believed we were going to win the ball game," he said. "We're very proud of what we did. There was never a doubt about effort or a doubt about the heart of this team."