By Ryan Lanigan, Editor-in-Chief
SHARON, Mass. – Franklin’s defense certainly wasn’t bad in the first half, surrendering just 21 points to Sharon. But faced with a four point deficit at the break, Franklin head coach CJ Neely challenged his team to crank it up.
The Panthers switched to a full court press to start the second half. The pressure worked off and turned it into a 10-3 run over the first three minutes of the quarter and then when Sharon got it within two again, the Panthers closed with another 10-3 in the last 2:30.
“We played much more aggressive in the second half,” Neely said. “We didn’t want to come right away with the press, we thought they might expect it because we had some out a lot of games this year with pressure. I still thought our defense was pretty good. That’s the third straight game we’ve gone against a run from other teams early and they’ve been hitting tough shots, at least I think they’re tough.”
“We saved the pressure a little bit for the second half. I challenged them. They were playing on their heels, they weren’t attacking the rim, they were worried about turning it over and worried about making mistakes. I think the second half they were more aggressive and more confident.”
Matt Lowerre drained a three to open the third to stretch Sharon’s lead to seven points but Franklin went to work from there. Kevin Gill hit a pair of free throws and after a turnover, freshman Jay Dieterle drained a three from the corner. Dieterle then put Franklin ahead, draining another deep ball and sophomore Connor Peterson followed it up with a two handed dunk after a nice screen from Dieterle and a perfect pass from Tim Prunier.
Ricardo Ripley drove for two but two free throws from Dieterle and another bucket from Peterson extended the lead to five. David Roelke hit a high arching three to get within two, but the Panthers banged out another 10-3 run.
Starting with a three from Dieterle – who had 11 of his 13 points in the quarter – Franklin was then able to get to the line. Prunier hit four straight free throws and the scoring for Franklin was capped by a corner three from Kevin Gill.
Franklin turned a four point deficit at halftime into a nine point lead after three with a 24-11 quarter.
“We weren’t really executing well and we didn’t seem to be on the same page offensively. We weren’t playing with any kind of confidence. I don’t know what the problem was, we just seemed passive in the first half,” Neely said. “Second half, we needed to be aggressive and deliberate and if we did that I told them we’d be fine.”
And Franklin was fine. Sharon did cut the deficit down to seven with three minutes to play off a layup from Jimmy Fitzhenry but that would be as close as the Eagles would get. Prunier hit two more free throws and then Gill drove to the basket to ice it.
“We couldn’t handle their pressure,” Sharon head coach Andrew Ferguson said of the difference between the first and second halves. “Franklin did an excellent job pressuring us in the back court. I think we threw the ball around a little too much. And for about a five minute spurt we left Dieterle open in the corner a few too many times. In the first half we did an excellent job contesting shots and contesting their drives. I think the second half we got a little tired, a little worn down from their press and we lost them a few times on the defensive end and that ended up being the difference.
“A lot of their 24 points [in the third quarter] stemmed from the fact that we couldn’t get anything going offensively, which is an absolute credit to their defense. I think that bled into our defensive effort. They were able to get out in transition a little bitter than us which allows to find their open shooters. When their shooters are open, they don’t miss.”
After hitting just one three on nine attempts in the first half, the Panthers connected from deep four times in the third in seven tries and finished 5/9 total from deep in the second half.
“It makes them have to respect it and come out of the paint which we weren’t making them do in the first because we weren’t making our shots,” Neely said of his team being able to knock down three point shots. “Jay buried a few and I heard them yelling about changing things so it allowed Tim and other guys to get to the rim. When you have your shooters spacing the floor it certainly opens it up and give you options.”
Peterson was the game’s high scorer, netting 15 points but maybe the most impressive was his defense and his career-high 18 rebounds.
“He was a big difference, I thought he dominated the paint defensively,” Neely said of Peterson. “All of their shots inside were difficult shots. They got some looks when they beat guys off the dribble but he was there to absorb the penetration and making them take tough shots without fouling. And the rebounding was just immense. That’s the kind of kid he is. He has that strength and that athleticism.”
Beyond Peterson, both Prunier (seven rebounds, four steals) and Dieterle (four rebounds) had 13 points while Gill added eight points. Lowerre led Sharon with 12 points and five rebounds while Peter Banks had four points and eight rebounds.
Franklin (13-1, 11-1) earned its eighth straight win and will put that streak on the line on Friday when they host King Philip on Friday at 7:00. Sharon (9-5, 8-4) falls a game back in the Davenport hunt but will look to try and keep pace when they host Oliver Ames on Friday.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.
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