CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Alex Putman and Bishop McGuinness have redefined their definition of memorable.
Any previous examples just can’t stack up to the way the Villains won Saturday’s NCHSAA Class 1-A girls state championship over Williamston Riverside.
The clock showed 5.2 seconds when Putman rebounded the second of two missed free throws from Riverside’s Kayla Jones, then weaved her way to the half-court line and let loose with a desperation shot from 47 feet.
The shot — dead on line — seemed to wedge momentarily between the backboard and the back of the rim. It came off softly, hit the rim again, and dropped in.
Moments later, after being dropped with a solid tackle from teammate Danielle Nieters, Putman found herself at the bottom of a rollicking dog pile.
Final score — McGuinness 61, Riverside 58.
“Somehow, the ball ended up in her hands — and sometimes things like that happen,” Coach Brian Robinson of McGuinness said, appearing dazed and stunned in the aftermath. “And it’s just an amazing shot, amazing game, amazing season and amazing group of girls.”
In Robinson’s memory, no McGuinness win over the last nine seasons ended on a winning shot at the buzzer.
As for Putman, who had missed on five attempts before her final shot, Robinson said she was not supposed to be the one with the ball.
“I just got the rebound and let it fly, I saw that it was on line but I thought it was going to ricochet right off,” Putman, a junior guard, said. “I looked at the clock and there was like 1.3 seconds left, there was a girl kind of close to me and I let it go. I don’t even think I saw it go in.”
The shot put away a Riverside team that finished 29-1, but outplayed the Villains for the final 20 minutes of the game. Jones, a 6-1 freshman from Riverside, was clearly the best player on the floor. She scored 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, and when she drew a foul from McGuinness’ Cameron Nieters with five seconds left, it appeared the Villains were done for.
Jones made 9 of her first 11 free throws before missing the last two.
“Sometimes you just have to hang onto your faith a little bit and when Kayla Jones was missing those two free throws, we found a way,” Robinson said. “When she was shooting those free throws I honestly said in my head ‘OK, how will we get out of this one.’
“The first one rimmed out, the second one I think spun out. After a make, the play was to go to anyone except Alex. Alex was supposed to throw the ball in.”
Julia Brown capped her career with a second straight championship-game MVP award for the Villains after scoring 26 points on 11 of 19 shooting; she also grabbed seven rebounds. Tia Cappuccio scored all of her 11 points in the second half after finally getting away from Jalyn Brown, Riverside’s cat-quick senior guard.
D’Asya Wilson added 15 points for the Knights.
“Obviously I wish it didn’t come down to a last-second shot at the end of the state-championship game, but we battled back from some things,” Coach Kirby Maness of Riverside said. “We were out of our element at the beginning of the game, but the rest of the way, we outplayed them. They just hit a shot.
“We knew that they don’t get to nine straight titles by lucking themselves into it, but they have been lucky in some ways. When you are good that happens. That’s the kindest rim I have ever seen for a half-court shot.”
When Julia Brown laid in a basket with 5:30 left in the second quarter, finishing off an assist from Tessa Johnston for her 16th point, McGuinness led 24-11 and appeared well on the way to a blowout. From there, the Villains imploded.
Riverside’s aggressive man-to-man defense smothered the Villains on the perimeter, leading to five turnovers over the rest of the half and a five minute scoreless stretch. The Knights went on a 10-0 run, with Jones scoring seven of her 11 first-half points, and made it a one-possession game when Wilson made a free throw to close the gap to 24-21 with 59 seconds left.
But McKenzie Rochford came through from there, helping end the Villains’ scoreless stretch by setting up Julia Brown for a layup. And with two seconds left, the 5-2 Rochford got under the basket and rebounded a miss from Brown, flipped in an awkward shot and drew a foul.
Rochford finished off the three-point play and the Villains led 29-22 at the half.
The Knights closed the third quarter on a 12-2 run to erase almost all of a 12-point deficit, and Jones’ driving layup with 1:03 left in the game gave Riverside its first lead at 58-56.
Cameron Nieters tied the score with a layup with 57 seconds left, the last basket before Putman’s shot.
Riverside’s Jalyn Brown couldn’t quite accept the result.
“I was standing on the right wing when (Putman) drove up,” Jalyn Brown said. “I was in deny defense, making my player dead, and everyone else was, too.
“She elevated herself above one of our players. I saw it hit the back of the rim and stop and then it fell in. The only thing I could think was, ‘Why?’ That was it. It was just a lucky shot. Sometimes it ends that way, but in my eyes we are the state champions.”
Cameron Nieters scored seven points and finished her career with 1,001 points.