WORCESTER, Mass. – Numbers don’t always tell the whole story of a game, but they certainly help explain what happened.
Franklin went from shooting 50% in the first half to just 26% from the floor in the second.
Franklin hit half of their six three point attempts in the first half but struggled from deep in the second half, going 1/9.
St. John’s shot over 40% from the field for the game (nearly 50% in the second half), had a plus-15 advantage on the glass and went 16/19 from the free throw line.
Those numbers totaled up to a 67-52 win for St. John’s over Franklin in the D1 Central Sectional Final.
“I think the offensive rebound for them was a big difference,” Franklin head coach CJ Neely said. “We didn’t do a great job boxing out and they won a lot of the 50/50 balls that were kind of bouncing around. Early in the game I thought we did a decent job but in the middle of the game, we started tipping them while they were grabbing the ball. They got extra shots and they scored, you can’t allow teams like them to get second chances.”
It was an impressive start for Franklin, forcing five turnovers in the first three minutes of play. Senior Kevin Gill and sophomore Paul Mahon harassed the Pioneers at every bounce of the ball. That defense turned into offense as Franklin built an 18-14 lead at the end of the quarter.
But with that tenacious defense came seven fouls called in eight minutes of play (compared to just two for SJS). And a minute into the second, both Gill and Mahon had picked up two fouls apiece.
That allowed the Pioneers to creep back into the game, plus St. John’s 11 first half offensive rebounds. The Pioneers closed the first half with a 10-3 run over the final 2:41 to take a 34-33 lead into halftime.
“Unfortunately we got into some foul trouble,” Franklin head coach CJ Neely said. “Paul was doing an excellent job on defense and then we picked up his second foul. Gill was doing a terrific job on defense then he picked up his second. Sam Harrell comes in and does a pretty good job but then he picked up a couple. Three of our best defenders ending up sitting on the bench in the first half for a long period of time and that’s going to hurt you. With the individual talents they have, that’s going to hurt you.
The first big deficit for the Panthers came when Sean Burke converted a putback to put SJS up 43-37. Paul Mahon’s corner three (the Panther’s lone connection from deep in the second half) cut it back to five but a bucket inside and a pair of free throws pushed the lead to 49-40 with 2:54 to go in the third. SJS held a 51-44 lead going into the final frame.
Franklin pulled within a possession at 51-48 with 5:56 to play behind baskets from Gill and freshman Jay Dieterle but Burke netted four straight points to stretch the lead again. Franklin had a pair of bad breaks down the stretch as after the Panthers came up with a stop, the rebound bounces out off a Franklin player and SJS scored right away. Then after a three point play cut the deficit to six with 2:46 to play, the Panthers got a stop on the other end only for Alex Bradley to get the tip in to put it back to eight.
The Panthers pushed hard with a press to try and create some more turnovers but the Pioneers were able to break it and extend the lead.
“We talked in warmups about getting to the free throw line,” SJS coach Bob Foley said. “We were 16/19? That helps.”
“I thought for the most part it was a really good game,” Neely said. “We had to start pressing at the end which was not part of our game plan. At that point with that deficit with that amount of time left, you have to amp it up and take some chances. They moved the ball well and got some easy layups.”
Gill scored a career-high 17 points in his final game for the Panthers while Dieterle added 11 points and five rebounds, sophomore Connor Peterson had eight points and four rebounds and senior Tim Prunier finished with seven points and seven assists.
Franklin boys basketball wraps up the season at 18-7 with its first Hockomock League Kelley-Rex title since 2012.
“We have a lot of goals coming into every season,” Neely said. “We want to get a home playoff game, we want to win the Hockomock Championship and we did those things. I think we accomplished a lot of goals this year. After losing a ton of seniors that were super talented, I can’t be more proud of these guys. They’re a great group of kids but tonight wasn’t out night, we didn’t play our best game but I won’t take any credit away from St. John’s. Tim did a great job as a captain, obviously as the league MVP. But it didn’t start on the first day of tryouts. They were picking each other up in the offseason for rides, getting everyone involved. He did a great job of captain and all of the seniors did a great job of involving everyone.”
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.
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