By Ron P. Coderre
Putnam Science Academy standout Mamadou Diarra fittingly hit the first basket of the season, signaling the start of the long journey for the Mustangs in their quest for a National Prep School Championship.  In a matchup of Nationally ranked teams the #7 Mustangs prevailed over #10 Spire Academy of Geneva, Ohio, in a high scoring affair 100-85.  
Following the basket, the first half got off to a rocky start before Diarra led the team to a second half comeback and a victory over the visitors.  The hosts put together a 56 point second half offensive performance to seal the win following a dismal first half showing in which they trailed by ten points 54-44.
In the first eight minutes of the second half the Scientists reeled off a 21to 8 run putting them on top 65-62, a lead they never relinquished.  
“Spire played a great first half.  Their shooting was outstanding.  At halftime I told our kids they needed to turn up the defensive intensity and make Spire put the ball on the floor.  We worked hard in the second half and it paid off for us with the win,” said coach Tom Espinosa.
Diarra, who is headed to UConn in September, led the way as he poured in 18 points on a 9-for-9 performance, including three spectacular dunks.  He posted a double-double, corralling 11 rebounds and adding three steals and three blocked shots.  Diarra was joined in double figures by four of his teammates.  Saul Phiri, a transfer from Worcester Academy had 16 markers in his first game for PSA, while two newcomers Eric Ayala and Jaheam Cornwall each had 15 points.  Rounding out the double figure scorers was Hamidou Diallo, who had 14 points off the bench.  Tyere Marshall turned in an outstanding all-around game as he used his big 6-foot, 9-inch frame grabbing 10 rebounds and scoring nine points.
As good as the Mustangs played in the second half they struggled equally in the first half.  Demonstrating the fact that this was their first real test as a unit they had 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.  Their shooting from the foul line was well below subpar as they hit only 7-of-16 from the charity stripe.
They improved to 23-of-37 overall for the game as they hit 16-of-21 in the second half and offensively protected the ball much better over the final 20 minutes.
“We still have a lot of work to do before we get to where we aspire to be.  I’m proud of the way the team played in the second half.  We’ll take the win,” said Espinosa.
Spire Academy was led by a pair of guards, Aidas Kavaliauskas and Tyrell Gumbs-Frater with 17 points apiece.
Mustangs Sweep Two at National Prep Showcase
Putnam Science Academy raised its early season record to 3-0 following two victories in the National Prep Showcase at Albertus Magnus College.  On Friday in the opener the Mustangs squeaked by Sunrise Christian Academy of Kansas 53-51 and followed that up with a more convincing 90-78 win over Montverde Academy of Florida.
The Scientists , who were paced by Diarra with 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, were in command for most of the contest.  Tyere Marshall once again turned in a stellar performance with 11 points and seven boards, while Diallo added 13 points in the winning cause.
In the Montverde game the Mustangs ran off with a 57-33 halftime advantage and were never headed.  They were led by Ayala with 11 points and five caroms, while sophomore Darnell Brodie corralled 10 boards to go with his four points.  Another sophomore, 7-2 Manny Umoffia added eight points and nine rebounds.  Brandon Hurst and Phiri each had nine poine, all scored from beyond the three-point arc.  
Hoop Happenings: The Putnam Science Academy gym looks like a different facility with a new coat of paint, a fully operational lighting system and a scrubbed playing surface…The gym also features two sets of bleachers on the stage at the far end of the gym, increasing the seating capacity…A large turnout of approximately 200 fans filled the gym, proving the adage, “Everyone loves a winner”…Spotted in the crowd Kansas State coach Bruce Webber…Also in attendance was PSA President Teqiang Ding and Headmaster Don Cushing…Cushing is coach Tom Espinosa’s father-in-law…Among the local coaches in attendance were Shawn Deary, Putnam basketball coach and Chad Neal, Killingly football coach…Moe Coderre, longtime timekeeper and scoreboard operator at Putnam was on the clock and graced the large crowd with a moving rendition of the National Anthem…The game was officiated by Christian Sarantopoulos and Rick Bogert, members of the newly created IAABO Board #35…Following UConn’s 83-58 win over Furman, coach Kevin Ollie was at the Showcase to watch his 2016 signee Diarra and his 2017 target recruit Diallo.
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