The Franklin Panthers are one of them.
With junior captain Paul Mahon sidelined with an injury, senior Connor Goldstein stepped into the starting lineup and delivered, dropping a career-high 23 points to pace the Panthers to a 54-44 win over #6 St. Peter Marian in the D1 Central Semifinals.
Top-seeded Franklin will take on #2 St. John’s Shrewsbury on Friday, at Worcester State at 5:45.
“It’s just the next man up for us,” Goldstein said. “Everyone on the team can do it, I was just the one chosen so I had to do my part. First quarter I happened to have the hot hand so I was thankful I could help out.”
Goldstein was Franklin’s offense in the first quarter, scoring all 14 of the team’s points as the Panthers held a 14-13 lead after eight minutes.
The senior drained his first shot of the game – a three – to put Franklin up 3-2 and then drove to the basket to make it 5-4 in favor of the Panthers. After SPM went up with a three, Goldstein hit back-to-back triples to give the Panthers an 11-7 lead. Goldstein hit his fourth three pointer with 20 seconds to left to help the Panthers lead by one.
Goldstein then added seven more points in the fourth quarter to help the Panthers ice the game.
“Goldstein’s started some games for us this season so we know he’s capable,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “I’ve said it before, all of these guys are pretty good players, we trust all of these guys but losing your captain, a guy who’s one of our top scorers and one of our top performers, that hurts the team. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. But I’m proud of the way everyone kind of rallied around it. Goldstein started it but then guys like [Matt] Elias came in and played well, Jalen [Samuels] had another nice game, Chris [Edgehill] picked his game up. And that’s kind of how it’s been for us, being one team instead of one guy.”
The Panthers had their worst quarter in terms of scoring and defense in the second frame, allowing SPM to score 14 points while the Panthers put up just nine.
A 6-0 run to start the quarter from the Guardians gave SPM a five point lead early in the second quarter before Franklin got on the board. A free throw from Jalen Samuels (five points, 11 rebounds) got the Panthers within one, Connor Peterson (eight points) scored in low and Goldstein converted an offensive rebound to put the Panthers back ahead 23-20.
But the Guardians had their best spurt of the game over the final 90 seconds of the half. Quion Sneed Jr. and Juan Zorilla (10 points) each hit three free throws before Jeffrey Sullivan drained a three to give SPM a 27-23 lead at halftime.
SPM took its largest lead early in the third quarter (29-23) but the Panthers turned it on – on both ends of the court – to turn things around.
Peterson’s bucket inside started a 12-0 game-changing run for the Panthers. After a missed three, Josh Macchi grabbed the offensive rebound and earned two free throws to get the Panthers within two and Samuels drove to the basket to tie the game with just under five minutes to play.
Franklin got a stop on its next possession. Freshman Chris Edgehill (15 points, four assists) delivered the big shot, stepping back and hitting a three to make it 32-29, forcing a timeout from the Guardians.
The run continued for Franklin out of the timeout as Samuels forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds and found Edgehill for another triple, capping the run and putting Franklin up 35-29.
“I thought in the first half we didn’t really come out,” Neely said. “Goldstein was ready to play but outside of him, we were a little soft. We weren’t taking it to the rim aggressively. I felt like rebounding wise they were getting the better of us, they were getting on the offensive glass, we weren’t putting bodies on people. We challenged them at halftime. We told them that [SPM] wanted it more in the first half. I thought we did a really nice job rebounding in the second half, we kept them out of the paint more and limited the inside touches. We challenged [SPM] to shoot a bit more and they weren’t able to convert as much as that helps. As a whole, I was proud of the way they battled through the adversity.”
Franklin led 39-35 through three quarters.
Goldstein got going again in the fourth quarter, draining a three to spark the offense early. The teams traded free throws for the next three minutes. SPM pulled within seven on an offensive put back from Shamar Simms but any momentum that the Guardians had was short lived as De Marr Langford was hit with a technical foul for a shove after the shot.
Edgehill hit both technical free throws to put Franklin up 48-39 with 2:57 to play.
“It’s nice to have a team where you can go into a game and the other team can’t say ‘If we can shut this one guy down we’ll be alright.’ If you do that, you’re at a disadvantage,” Neely said. “We move the ball well enough, we get good looks for different guys and they’re capable of knocking them down.”
SPM got within six with under two minutes to play but the Panthers quickly broke the press and got an easy layup from Goldstein. SPM didn’t cut the deficit to under eight the rest of the way.
“I just thought offensively [in the second half] we did a better job of curling screens,” Neely said. “They were switching a little bit so we curled a bit more. We got some looks off that. With the denials and the way they were defending us, it opened a lot of driving lanes we weren’t taking advantage of in the first half. We were able to get downhill in the second half and then get some looks.”
Franklin boys basketball will take on St. John’s Shrewsbury for the fourth straight year. The Panthers lost in the sectional final in 2014 and 2016 and in the semifinal in 2015.