The search for an identity on the offensive end, however, has taken a little bit longer. But the Panthers seemed to find the balance they need in a 72-60 win over Taunton on Tuesday night.
The Panthers exploded for 27 points in the third quarter, turning what was just an eight-point lead into a comfortable 20-point cushion with just eight minutes left.
“I think we were just more aggressive and shared the ball,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “When we play aggressive and guys look to attack the paint, and then when they get in there and make good decisions that can be the difference.
“I think early on in the season we were aggressive in the paint but not making good decisions. And then we started to pass too much. Now we’re finding the balance between driving and scoring and driving and finding a teammate, and I think that was the big difference offensively.”
The Panthers nearly doubled their score from the first half with the big quarter. After scoring 28 points on 42% shooting from the floor (10-for-24), Franklin exploded for 11 field goals (3-for-5 from three) in the third on 65% shooting with just one turnover.
Senior captain Paul Mahon scored eight straight points for the Panthers, part of a 14-3 run that Franklin used to open the second half. Mahon splashed a three from the corner and then hit one from a couple steps beyond the line. Franklin got out on a fast break but missed, only for Mahon to come in uncontested for one easy putback and a 36-24 lead just 90 seconds into the second half.
Samuels and Edgehill scored back-to-back baskets and then Samuels followed up his own miss with an easy putback. After Taunton stopped the streak with a free throw, Edgehill drained a three after the Panthers hauled in an offensive rebound.
Taunton’s Naz Kenion, who had a solid game off the bench with 11 points and six rebounds, corralled a three-point miss and scored to cut the deficit to 45-30, but Samuels added to Franklin’s second chance points with an assist from Edgehill. Samuels added two more free throws and Edgehill closed the quarter with four straight points.
“It’s always good to get Paul going,” Neely said. “We didn’t come out with a focus on getting him going specifically but we always want to get him involved offensively. He only took five shots [on Sunday] against Oliver Ames and that’s a problem. We need him to score for us. And we asked Jalen to be more aggressive for us tonight too, and both guys respond. Jalen had 16 and Paul had 13…that’s where we need to be. We need multiple scorers, we can’t just rely on one player.”
Franklin raced out to a 14-7 lead in the first quarter as the Tigers struggled from deep (0-for-10 from beyond the arc). In the second quarter, Taunton cut the deficit to five three separate times but couldn’t get closer.
Back-to-back buckets from Lens Esquil (17 points, nine rebounds) cut it to 16-11, but Matt Elias (13 points) answered for the Panthers with a triple. Lou Vendrell splashed a three to get Taunton within 21-16, but free throws from Jack Rodgers and Elias, followed by a bucket from Samuels stretched Franklin’s lead back to 25-16.
Esquil again rattled off four straight points to bring Taunton within 25-20 in the final minute of the quarter, but Elias drained another triple to give Franklin a 28-20 lead at the break.
Taunton’s up-tempo trap defense paid dividends in the final quarter, forcing seven turnovers in the final frame (50% of Franklin’s turnovers). That led to 25 points in the final frame, but the Panthers never let the game get within single digits.
Behind eight points from freshman Diamond Blakely (11 points total) and four points apiece from Kenion, Esquil and Malik Charles, Taunton cut it to 10 with a minute to play but that was as close as they would get.
Taunton finished the game 2-for-17 from beyond the three-point line.
“Obviously [Taunton] can really slash and get to the rim and bother you that way, but they definitely have some guys that can light it up from the outside so it’s difficult to defend,” Neely said. “We put a lot into one on one defending and not helping off guys like Vendrell and [Dante] Law. They got some looks in the first half, and then they also made some tough shots too. If they were going to continue to make those contested shots then we had to live with it.”
Taunton falls to 5-4 overall with its third straight loss and 2-3 in league play. The Tigers will try to bounce back when they return to action on Friday for just their third home game of the year against King Philip. Franklin boys basketball (4-1 Hockomock, 7-1 overall) will host rival Mansfield (5-0, 7-1) in a key Kelley-Rex division showdown.
Mansfield is riding a three-game win streak at Franklin, and are 2-0 in the new gym.
“You don’t have to get the guys fired up for a Mansfield game,” Neely said. “I think they’re already excited for it. I think as soon as we broke the huddle tonight, that was one of the first things the guys talked about it. It’s a big game for both teams. It’s still early in the season so we’re just trying to get better as is but those games are always battles, always tight. Hopefully, we can come out on top this time.”