GRANVILLE — Putnam County coach Josh Nauman said junior Harold Fay “played probably his two worst games of the season the first two games of the (Tri-County Conference) Tournament.”
Fay turned things around Friday night with the advice of his older brother, Carlton, in the back of his mind.
The junior guard scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead the Panthers to a 64-63 victory over Hall in the championship game.
“Like my brother always says, ‘Have a short memory. Forget about the last game. Play in the present.’ That’s what I did,” Fay said. “I was getting open shots and I was getting to the rim. It was all clicking tonight.”
Fay scored 16 points in the first half and had nine in the fourth quarter, including a key 3-pointer with 1:27 left.
“We tried four different guys on Fay,” said Hall coach Mike Filippini, whose team missed a shot at the buzzer. “He was just too strong. I watched him play 5 ½ quarters Wednesday night and he scored five points. He had five points the first two times he touched the ball tonight. Fay beat us. He’s a great player. It’s not like we got beat by some scrub that Josh (Nauman) found on the end of his bench. He beat us. You have to give credit to Fay. That kid played a heck of a game.”
Fay’s performance helped him keep a family tradition alive as his father, Harold, as well as brothers Carlton and Kevin have all played on TCC Tournament championship teams for Putnam County.
“It’s real good,” Fay said. “People always say I’ve got big shoes to fill. It’s good to finally get this, and hopefully we can get another. Hopefully, we can get to regionals and win that, too.”
The victory gave the Panthers their first Tri-County Tournament title since 2008.
“It’s great,” Nauman said. “This is a great tournament. It’s been around forever. It’s always such battles here and great games. We get great crowds here. It feels great to win it. We got third two years ago and second last year. This year we got the one we wanted.”
The Panthers used their pressure defense to jump on the Red Devils early.
PC’s defense sped up the Hall offense and forced four turnovers in the first five minutes as the Panthers built a 14-4 lead and never trailed.
“Harold came out with a lot of energy and focus tonight. He kind of got us going,” Nauman said. “He’s our emotional leader. He got us off to a great start. He had 16 in the first half. He just came out playing great. He got everybody else going. We got a lot of turnovers early and kind of jumped on them.”
The Panthers led by as many as 12 points in the first half, but Hall rallied within eight by halftime and took momentum into the break when Brett Fanning drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“I think it was mostly nerves,” Filippini said. “Putnam County’s played in a lot of championship games the last couple years. This is our first title game we’ve played in a long time, so I think our kids were very nervous. Brett hit that big 3 at the end that gave us momentum going into halftime.”
The Red Devils cut their deficit to one point at 42-41 with 2:27 left in the third quarter on fast-break three-point plays by Miguel Villarreal and Fanning.
However, the Panthers responded with a 6-0 run to go up 48-41 before entering the fourth quarter with a 48-43 lead.
PC pushed its lead to 51-43 on a 3-pointer by Fay on the first possession of the second half, but Hall responded with a 3 from Ian Trevier.
The Panthers held a 4-7 point lead until Villarreal drove for a basket and Fanning knocked down a 3-pointer to make it a 63-61 game with 50.1 seconds left.
PC’s Evan Kreiser split a pair of free throws with 43.1 seconds left to give the Panthers a 64-61 lead.
Hall’s Erick Fuentes then drove to the basket to cut the Red Devils’ deficit to one with 34.6 seconds remaining.
The Red Devils immediately called their final timeout to set up a press.
Putnam County successfully inbounded the ball, but Hall’s Danny Nolasco then stole a pass to give Hall one last shot.
After the ball was knocked out of bounds, the Red Devils inbounded and got the ball to Fanning.
He was double teamed but managed to drive toward the basket and pull up for a shot, which missed just before the buzzer.
“I thought we outplayed them the second half,” Filippini said. “The problem was, we just couldn’t get that ball to go in. There were a lot of plays that beat us. It wasn’t just Brett’s last shot. There were a bunch of plays in a one-point game.”
Peoria Christian 52, Marquette 48
Curtiss Johnson and Michael Synpniewski each scored 12 points as the Crusaders fell in the consolation championship.
Elliot Kowalski added 10 points for Marquette.
Notes: Woodland won the third-place game 58-48 over Roanoke-Benson. … Putnam County’s Cody Veronda and Xavier Warren were named to the all-tournament team along with Hall’s Fanning, Marquette’s Johnson and Henry’s Nathan Helle. … R-B’s Zach Meinhold won the free throw contest. … Peoria Christian won the cheerleading competition.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.