FRANKLIN, Mass. – Before Franklin hosts Mansfield this coming Friday in a game that will likely decide the Kelley-Rex title, the Panthers had a big test against a visiting Taunton squad on Monday night.
The Panthers passed with flying colors.
Franklin took a two-point lead at the end of the first quarter and blew the game wide open with dominant second quarter, eventually walking away with a 78-36 win over Taunton.
While Franklin got nearly everything it wanted inside in the first quarter (7/9 from 2PT) and put up 16 points, Taunton freshman Dante Law had 10 points to help the Tigers keep pace.
Leading 16-14 to start the second quarter, Franklin senior Josh Macchi completely took over on the offensive end. The Panthers defense forced nine turnovers alone in the second quarter and Macchi dominated the boards to help Franklin build a big lead.
“We’re always emphasizing defense but we felt like the past few games, leading up to this we got a little sloppy,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely.”We’ve been really focusing on it in practice and really focused on protecting the paint. In terms of rebounding, we have a lot of long bodies, a lot of athletic guys that can get int he paint and make things happen and we have to start doing it. We hadn’t been creating second opportunities until tonight.”
Macchi started a 10-2 run with an easy putback and senior Connor Goldstein drained a three on the following possession. Connor Peterson (20 points) grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a quick layup and Macchi hit a free throw the next trip down after hauling in an offensive rebound.
Macchi (17 points, 12 rebounds) pulled in one of his seven offensive rebounds on the next trip, but it was the only time that the Panthers didn’t score on a second opportunity. On the defensive end, Macchi came away with a steal and then found junior Alex Klowan for a three. A free throw from Jack Rodgers capped Franklin’s 10-2 run over the first five minutes.
“I thought Josh had a tremendous game again for us tonight,” Neely said of Macchi He’s been playing out of his mind. The past seven or eight games, he’s been in double-digits each time and he’s just killing it on the boards. He’s our one senior starter, and he’s really stepped up.
The Panthers weren’t done there though, scoring 13 points over the final three minutes of the quarter. Macchi was responsible for six himself – four from putbacks – and assisted on another three from Klowan. Sophomore Jalen Samuels (nine points) converted a putback and hit a layup in the final moments to give Franklin a commanding 43-18 lead at halftime. Franklin outscored Taunton 27-4 in the quarter.
“Just a disaster,” relayed Taunton head coach Charlie Dacey regarding the second quarter. “The transitions…the complete and utter failure to block out killed us. They weren’t running spectacular sets, but they just cleaned up every time. It seemed like a lot more offensive rebounds in that quarter than eight.”
Even more impressive for the Panthers was their dominate quarter came without junior captain Paul Mahon. Mahon, who entered the game tied for the team lead in scoring, picked up his second foul early in the quarter and was forced to the bench.
“I thought Klowan came in and gave us some good minutes, Matt Elias does a good job in there,” Neely said. “Sometimes Paul is done for the half when he gets the two fouls, sometimes he isn’t. I told him we’ll see how it goes. The guys stepped up and did a great job without him. I’m pretty proud of the guys for stepping up and extending the lead.”
Franklin quickly put to bed any thought of a super comeback, rattling off a 9-2 run in less than three minutes.
The Panthers went to work down low with Peterson converting a three point play to begin the half, Macchi driving for two and Peterson getting two more field goals in the paint.
“We thought we had a mismatch inside with CP,” Neely said. “Sometimes they were doubling, sometimes they weren’t. We wanted to get him the ball to see what would happen. If he had single coverage, just go at them. If they brought the double, guys had to be ready to shoot and guys hit some shots.”
After surrendering 14 points in the opening quarter, Franklin’s defense allowed 10 or less points in the final three quarters. Taunton scored just 22 points over the final three quarters. Law finished with a team-high 12 points, junior Tyler Medeiros had 11 rebounds and freshman Naz Kenian added seven points.
Franklin boys basketball (14-3 overall, 12-1 Hockomock) hosts rival Mansfield (15-2, 12-1) on Friday night at 6:30. The Panthers and the Hornets are the lone two teams left that can win the division and Friday’s contest will determine who’s in the driver’s seat. Taunton (11-6, 6-6) is back in action on Wednesday at Stoughton.
“Obviously it’s a big rivalry and we know what it’s about,” Neely said. “But we have to treat it like every other game. Their a good team so hopefully we can execute as well as we did tonight and come out on top.”