FRANKLIN, Mass. – Having three legitimate offensive options has made Franklin one of the top teams in the area. But its now safe to say senior Matt Elias gives the Panthers a fourth.
The senior sharpshooter scored a career-high 17 points, connecting on four three-pointers to lead the Panthers to a key 67-52 win over Mansfield, putting the teams into a first-place tie in the Kelley-Rex. It also marked Franklin’s first win in its current gym, which opened in 2014.
“Elias had a huge game,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “He’s a silent assassin. When he’s playing well, we’re playing well. You go right down the line, we have guys that can play but he’s really stepped up for us all season long, he’s had big shot after big shot. He’s shooting with a lot of confidence, he’s playing with a lot of confidence and that’s what we’re going to need if we’re going to win games like tonight.”
It wasn’t Elias’ first big scoring output of the season, but it may have been his most valuable. It seemed almost all 17 of his points either gave Franklin a big boost or halted Mansfield from gaining any momentum of its own.
He drained a three just seconds after Mansfield hit their first triple, and then another just minutes later to erase Mansfield’s second — and final — lead of the game.
In the third quarter, Edgehill (14 points), the team’s leading scorer entering Friday night’s game, was forced to the bench after picking up his fourth foul with four minutes to go in the frame. Although Mansfield closed the gap some, Elias hit his third three of the game to make it 45-33 and the keep the Hornets at bay.
And after Mansfield was called for an offensive foul with under a minute to play, Elias beat the buzzer with a putback on the offensive end — a potential five-point swing — to keep Franklin up 47-36 going into the final period.
“Those five points were huge,” Neely said. “Jalen and Chris were both out so we were trying to survive that stretch as long as we could. Obviously having both those guys out is not ideal, it’s not how you draw it up. But I was saying if we could keep the lead around 10 we’d in in great shape. Matt’s been there for us all season and he was there again tonight for us and I’m proud of them.”
Elias then opened the fourth quarter with his fourth triple of the night, extending the lead to 50-37. And then with five minutes to play, after Mansfield gained some momentum off of an offensive putback, Elias came down the other end and converted a traditional three-point play to make it 54-42.
“Matt Elias went out and has a night for himself, talk about an all-star performance,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “That’s what he’s capable of doing, he’s put in the time. If there was an MVP tonight, it has to go to him. Every time I thought we were on a run or going to close the gap, Matt throws his ceiling shot through the bottom of the night.”
After a frantic first quarter, the Panthers held a 17-13 advantage. Mansfield’s offense shot 50% from the field but had seven turnovers. Things didn’t get any better for the Hornets in the second quarter either.
Franklin continued its solid play on both ends of the court, going 6-for-11 from the field while Mansfield’s turnover woes continued. The Hornets had eight turnovers in the second quarter alone (15 first half total) while shooting just 2-for-13 from the floor, including 0-for-8 from downtown.
“We got some looks in the first quarter and they didn’t fall,” Vaughan said. “We got tight, started to press, we started looking to the officials for calls. I think we tried to win the game in one possession, everyone wanted to be a superhero instead of just chipping away and doing what we do. We just dug ourselves too big of a hole.”
The Panthers outscored Mansfield 14-7 in the quarter and took a 31-20 lead into the halftime break.
“I know CJ praises his team and also criticizes his team when he feels like they were outplayed…tonight they were definitely not outplayed,” Vaughan said. “[Franklin] did an awesome job, they took things away, they were well prepared. Simple things that people in the stands might not notice, they did a really good job taking away. They played with a lot more energy, a lot more passion. They played with a chip on their shoulder and we kind of came in and laid down like things were going to be handed to us.”
While Mansfield made small runs throughout the second half, the Panthers pushed their lead to 18 by opening the second half on a 9-2 run. Samuels (18 points, six rebounds) drove to the basket for two, Mahon (six points, three rebounds) drained a three, Samuels converted at the rim again and Jack Rodgers hit a pair of free throws to make it 40-22.
Mansfield got it back to single digits with a 9-2 run of its own, but Elias’ third triple put an end to that surge.
When the Hornets got it back to single digits later in the fourth quarter on a drive by Sam Hyland (six points, seven rebounds), Elias’ three-point play pushed the lead back to 12.
“We tried to take away some of their best options,” Neely said of his defense. Mansfield finished with a season-high 26 turnovers. “They are a tough team to stop, they are one of the best offensive teams around. The way they move the ball and play together is kind of reminiscent of what we do so it’s always going to be a battle. But I think the guys really bought into the scout. We knew we had to be focused for the entire 32 minutes.”
“It’s been a long time,” Vaughan said of having so many turnovers. “My first couple of years we averaged around 20 a game and that was not fun. I think we had 14 or 15 at the half, which is too many. At the end of the day they were playing man to man, they weren’t pressing, they weren’t doubling, they weren’t doing anything special. Granted our shot percentage deserved to be low because they were good defensively but turnovers…that’s careless. That’s not moving, that’s bad concentration. Turnovers you can control, most of them. Anything beyond 12 or 13, that’s too many.”
Franklin boys basketball (5-1 Hockomock, 8-1 overall) is back in action on Tuesday with a trip to Attleboro. Mansfield boys basketball (5-1, 7-2) will try to bounce back on Sunday against Hanover in an endowment game (won’t count towards tournament record) at 5:30.
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