FRANKLIN, Mass. – Friday night’s contest between rivals Mansfield and Franklin wasn’t the exact same as their first meeting back in January, but the symmetry was apparent.
Just like January’s game, the home team erased a second half double-digit deficit to make it a one possession in the final minutes.
But just like the first time around, the visitors walked away with the win.
Mansfield held off a late rally from the Panthers, keeping Franklin scoreless over the final final minutes, in route to a 55-51 win that pulled the Hornets level atop the Kelley-Rex division with just one league game to go.
Th Hornets doubled their seven point lead at the midway point just five minutes into the second half and increased it to a game-high 15 points off a Christian Weber three to just 2:20 to play in the third, but Franklin wouldn’t go away.
Over the course of the end of the third and the first few minutes of the fourth, the Panthers rattled off a 15-3 run to get the game down to one possession. Sophomore Connor Peterson closed the third with back to back baskets and freshman Jay Dieterle opened the final frame with a three. After Peterson hit a free throw to make it a seven point game, Mansfield’s Tyler Boulter drained a three to get it back to 10.
For the next five minutes, Mansfield only managed one free throw as Franklin crawled back. Dieterle hit another three and after a stop, Peterson went into the paint for two more. Another missed three from the Hornets resulted in a strong take to the hoop from Dieterle to make it a three point game with 4:16 to go. Mansfield’s lone point came via Sam Goldberg’s free throw.
After a steal from Tim Prunier, Sam Harrell took it to the whole strong to cut it to 53-51 with 3:09 left.
The teams traded missed shots and on its next possession, Mansfield milked the shot clock down to the final seconds. With just a few tickets left, junior Matt Ehrlich took a step towards the basket from the three point line but instead of driving, pulled up for a deep two that he drained to make it 55-11 with 1:40 to go.
Franklin missed on the other end but got a stop with just under a minute to go. Dieterle’s three was halfway down but rattled out and despite an offensive rebound, Franklin’s second attempt from three via Paul Mahon was off the mark. Franklin got another offensive rebound and called timeout but Prunier’s deep three hit the back rim. Mansfield missed it’s first free throw of a one and one but with a four point lead, elected to foul with 8.6 seconds left instead of letting the Panthers get a shot off from the floor.
Both teams then traded missed free throws as the clock ran out.
“This puts us back in the driver’s seat,” Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan said with the Hornets moving into a tie for first place. “Now Attleboro becomes a league championship game regardless of what happens with Franklin and Taunton. We got some luck with Franklin slipping up along the way and give us that chance. Tonight was our night to capitalize on our luck and to win tonight means we capitalized. Now we have to go out our fourth in a row.”
The win marked Mansfield’s fourth straight overall and seventh straight in league play.
“I think we’ve matured as a team,” Vaughan said. “We’ve re-identified ourselves as better defensively than we were, we’re not giving up big quarters anymore. Even their run, those weren’t easy shots, those were plays made by very good basketball players. Offensively we got a little stagnant and we had to get out of that. When you play a team like Franklin that’s so good defensively, they wear you out. We were worn out for a while but we stuck with it and kept cutting and moving and Matt Ehrlich buried a huge shot to give us life.”
It was a back and forth opening quarter with each team holding leads. Franklin’s Josh Macchi converted a traditional play with 30 seconds to go to give the Panthers a lead but Mansfield’s Kyle Swansburg beat the shot clock while being fouled in the final seconds to put Mansfield up 16-15 after one.
The Hornets gained some separation in the second quarter. With a one point lead at 21-20, Ehrlich scored five straight points for Mansfield and then Boulter connected on two three’s to give Mansfield a 32-25 lead at half.
“We got a lot of good looks [at the end] too I thought, looks that I’ll take every time,” Franklin head coach CJ Neely said, about the team’s late scoreless stretch. “I’m really proud of the effort from the guys battling back after being down, really fought hard and defended. If we defended like the way we did in the second half in the first half, I think we win the game. I think our first half defense was the difference. Mansfield played really well, they moved the ball really well. I felt like we didn’t pressure them enough and they were able to execute what they wanted to execute. That’s usually our bread and butter the defensive pressure but we didn’t do it tonight.”
To start the third, Mansfield was able to stretch the lead to 10 and hold it around there for the majority of the frame. With an 11 point lead (43-32) with just over three minutes to play, Boulter connected on another triple and after Kevin Gill scored at the rim for Franklin, Weber knocked down an open three to make it 49-34.
“I called that timeout in the fourth and said just play the game to win, stop playing it not to lose,” Vaughan said. “In [Franklin’s] late run, some things went their way, some bounces, some calls, some things that just could have gone either way. But that’s part of the game and you play through that stuff and I thought our guys fought through that. From the team we were in January to the team we are now, we’re able to play though that stuff and I think it makes a big difference. Now we’re a team that’s coming out firing all cylinders. When we got flat I thought we did a pretty good job defensively.”
Boulter had a team-high 12 points while Sam Goldberg had 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Ehrlich (four rebounds, four assists) and Weber each had nine points, Nick Baskin had six and Max Boen had five points and four assists.
“You play a lot of teams where they have one or two guys you don’t have to worry about, someone who might not shoot and you can help off of it. But Mansfield has so many guys that can spread the floor, they all share it, they move the ball so well, they don’t care who scores. They move the ball to who’s ever open for the shot and it’s pretty impressive offensively. That stinks [for us] because if you miss a rotation or leave a guy, they are going to make you pay for it and they did that tonight.”
Peterson had 21 points and nine rebounds to lead Franklin while Dieterle added 18 points and Gill had five points, six rebounds and five assists. Prunier added six rebounds and seven assists.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Vaughan said. “You’ve got to be able to play through the bad ones and capitalize on the good ones. I thought our third quarter was similar to their fourth quarter but we got some stops at the end. We had a cushion from the first half and then the third quarter was ours, the fourth quarter was theirs but in the final two minutes we got the stops to close it out.
“It’s speaks where our team is going. From where we were a month ago to now, I think we’ve got exponentially better. Franklin is a very good team, they’re well rounded and they’re going to do very well in the tournament. We could play this games 100 times and probably go 50-50. These games are won by very good basketball players on both teams.”
Mansfield boys basketball (14-4, 12-3) will host Weymouth on Monday night. It will have a chance to clinch its fourth straight Kelley-Rex crown against Attleboro on February 22nd. Franklin (14-3, 12-3) will take on Everett on Sunday evening in Woburn. The Panthers can clinch a share of the Kelley-Rex with a win over North Attleboro on February 22nd.
“This rivalry doesn’t go away,” Vaughan said. “This is the best $5 in the area that you can spend to come watch these two teams play.”
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.