The Panthers sank their first five three-point attempts, forced the visiting Hornets into 18 turnovers and limited Mansfield to under 30% shooting from the field to pick up a 63-45 win, snapping a four-game skid to their rivals.
“[Mansfield] is arguably one of the best teams in the state every year so we know it’s going to be a ridiculous challenge every time we play them,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “We were excited for it, we wanted to play a really good team. Being home obviously helps. Mansfield presents a huge challenge and I thought we were up for it tonight.
“We know each other so well so familiarity is pretty big, I thought our scout was pretty solid and I thought our guys did a job of really executing, especially on the defensive end of the floor. I thought we limited their best guys to some really tough shots and that’s what we wanted to do. We knew what their strengths were and we wanted to do our best to take those guys away. It’s not something you can usually do with [Sam] Stevens and [Matt] Boen especially, and [TJ] Guy is such a presence in there. And down the line, their guys know how to play off of them. I thought our guys did a good job tonight against their offense.”
After an innocuous start from both sides that had the hosts ahead 8-6, the Panthers caught fire from deep. Senior Brayden Sullivan (seven points, seven rebounds) his first triple of the game and senior Steven Karayan followed with one of his own on the next possession. Chris Edgehill (16 points, five rebounds, five assists) battled through contact for two and on the next possession, senior Jack Rudolph (13 points) connected from deep for the second time in the frame for a 19-6 advantage.
Meanwhile, the Hornets struggled to get much going on the offensive end with just one make on seven three-point attempts to go along with five turnovers.
While Mansfield was able to keep pace in the second quarter, it was never able to orchestrate a run to cut into the deficit. An early three from Makhi Baskin was canceled out by five straight points from Declan Walmsley, who scored a career-high 18 points to go along with seven rebounds.
Guy (11 points, nine rebounds, four assists) completed a traditional three-point play on one end but Edgehill did the same for Franklin on the ensuing possession. Edgehill drained a triple after Boen (10 points) drove to the basket for two, and even after freshman Chris Hill drained a late three to make it a single-digit deficit, Edgehill scored at the rim to make it 36-25 at the break.
“[Franklin] showed up with a purpose and wanted to prove something,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “And we showed up like we’ve been here before. It wasn’t about doing the little things, it wasn’t about micromanaging ourselves…we felt that since we wore the jersey, we’re Mansfield and we’re going to win. You can’t do that…Franklin is too good talent-wise, they are good offensively, they are one of the best if not the best team defensively in the league.
“I’m not sure there was one aspect of the game we did well. We didn’t shoot well, we had 18 turnovers, we didn’t dominate the glass, we were sluggish on our rotations…I can’t name one thing that I thought we could take a positive from other than we have more games to play.”
The third quarter played out similarly to the second with Franklin going toe-to-toe with the Hornets, coming up with counter punch after counter punch anytime Mansfield made a move.
Senior Drew Rooney drilled a three a minute into the third and the Hornets got the first stop on defense but Edgehill cashed in on an offensive board. Sam Stevens scored and the Hornets came up with a steal on the defensive end but gave it right back on a turnover. Sullivan cashed in with two to keep the advantage in double figures.
After Boen sank a pair of free throws, Rudolph came back down and finished through contact for a three-point play, hit a pair of free throws after a technical foul on Mansfield, and Walmsley scored underneath as the Panthers hit a quick 7-0 run that seemed to put the game out of reach.
“They are so disciplined and good at what they do [defensively],” Vaughan said. “It’s kind of like us on offense where we tend to be very disciplined, very good, and that’s how they are on defense. They take things away…kind of like the Belichick of high school basketball where they take away the best players and take away what you do best. Hats off to CJ for them to be able to do that. They are athletic, they are quick, not having a big actually helps them against us.”
After hitting seven threes in the first half, the Panthers attacked the basket with more frequency in the third quarter. Despite not hitting from distance, Franklin still scored 17 points in the quarter and extended their lead by five points.
“We were making a lot of shots but we knew it was bound to come back to normal [percentages],” Neely said. “We knew we just couldn’t settle for that first look, we had to make them work on every single possession. I thought, to their credit, they made an adjustment and got out on the shooters a little more so you have to take what they give you and I thought we did a good job.”
Mansfield added four more points in the quarter, but all from the free throw line. The Hornets then went scoreless for the first 6:12 of the fourth quarter. In that span, Franklin had an 8-0 burst that featured free throws from Edgehill, Matt Lazarek, and five points from Walmsley.
“By far the best game of his career, no question about it,” Neely said of Walmsley. “We know he can shoot it but he’s really been able to bother guys defensively, has a lot of length and athleticism. He can block some shots, slides his feet pretty well, and can bother people with his close out because his arms are so long.”
Mansfield snapped its scoreless stretch as Cincere Gill drove to the basket for two and followed with back-to-back three-pointers in the final two minutes.
“When you get to a situation where you aren’t scoring, your better players are starting to force action,” Vaughan said. “And then you’re getting outside of what you do, and then it’s a snowball effect and gets worse and worse. And a lot of that goes to how Franklin defended. We came out of character, I didn’t like our mindset.”
Franklin boys basketball (4-0 Hockomock, 7-0 overall) moves atop the Kelley-Rex division with the win and will visit Stoughton on Tuesday. Mansfield (2-1, 4-2) is back in action on Monday when it visits Foxboro.