After beating D1 South hopeful New Bedford on Sunday, the Panthers matched up with the state’s top-ranked team, Tech Boston, in the championship game of the Harvey Nasuti Winter Classic.
Although the flow of the game was hindered by nearly 50 foul calls, the Panthers made the runs at the right times and limited the Bears in transition, resulting in a 76-67 win.
“We feel like we’re one of the best teams in the state,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely. “We’re not worried about who’s one or two or stuff like that. We talk about our goals and taking it one step at a time. This was our next goal [to win this tournament] and Tech Boston happened to the be the top-ranked team. They’re a very good team. We like that we can compete there and show what we’re made of, especially on the defensive side of the ball I think we did a great job able to slow them down some.”
Franklin sophomore Chris Edgehill scored a career-high 31 points and dished out five assists to garner the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor. Edgehill went 17-for-18 from the free throw line.
As a team, Franklin was 31-for-48 from the charity stripe, with 37 of those attempts coming in the second half.
The first quarter went back-and-forth with Tech Boston (16-1) twice building four-point leads (7-3, 11-7) but both times the Panthers came back. The latter comeback — a bucket from Jalen Samuels (13 points, 13 rebounds) on a feed from Paul Rudolph and two free throws from Edgehill — tied the game after eight minutes of play.
With the score knotted 18-18 in the second quarter, the Panthers rattled off a 12-3 run over the final 3:21 of the half.
Senior Paul Mahon (eight points, four assists) bookended the run with a pair of layups, Samuels had five straight points in the middle of the run and Edgehill drained a triple off a nice feed from Jack Rodgers. The run gave Franklin a 31-20 lead at the break.
“We wanted to take care of the ball and didn’t want to have too many live ball turnovers where it’s basically a pick six and they get a layup,” Neely said. “And we wanted to make them play half court and I thought if we could do those things we’d be alright. We can’t defend them in the full court if we turn it over and they are getting out. I think we had only three turnovers in the second quarter and we got some separation.”
Tech Boston upped its pressure to start the second half, using a full court press along with some trapping. The adjustment paid off and the visitors started the third quarter with an 8-0 surge to get within one point.
Franklin, however, had a response of its own. The Panthers went on a 14-0 run over the next four minutes to build the separation it needed to ride the rest of the way.
Matt Elias scored the first four points, Edgehill picked up four points via two technical free throws and a layup on the ensuing possession and then Mahon had four points breaking the press as well as an assist to Edgehill in transition.
By the end of the third quarter, the Panthers had a 55-38 lead on the previously unbeaten Bears.
“We knew they were going to have to adjust and start trapping us a little bit and putting some pressure on,” Neely said. “We didn’t do a good job adjusting right away but once we settled ourselves down and stopped chucking it around the gym, we were alright. Guys wanted the ball, they were flashing and catching and being strong with it. They weren’t just dribbling to nowhere. Once we started breaking the press we were fine. And Edgehill is great with the ball, you can rely on him to break some of those traps. And once you get through the top level we got some easy buckets.”
The Panthers didn’t have much of a chance to run their offense in the fourth quarter. Whether it was being fouled on defensive rebounds or trying to break the press, Franklin went to the line 28 times in the fourth quarter alone, sinking 16 attempts.
Franklin boys basketball (19-2) is back in action on Thursday when it travels to Cambridge Rindge & Latin in a rematch of last year’s D1 State Final. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 PM.
“We wanted to play a really hard schedule after what we did last year,” Neely said. “We hear it all the time about being in the Central [section]. We wanted to challenge ourselves against the best teams. We scrimmaged Needham, Newton North, and Burke earlier in the year, we played CM and New Bedford and [Tech Boston], we played Arlington. We’re ready, we wanted to be tested. The Central has some challenges, contrary to what people believe. So we wanted to be ready.”