The Hornets got off to a strong start offensively, locked in defensively all night long, and junior Trevor Foley had a big second half en route to a 56-46 win over the Panthers in the lone meeting of the season.
Mansfield hit five of its nine three-pointers inside the first eight minutes and forced Franklin into 12 of its 16 turnovers in the first half, limiting the visitors to just four points in the second quarter.
Foley had a quiet first half with just one make but roared to life in the second half, scoring 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the floor while hauling in eight rebounds. His one-handed slam gave Mansfield its largest lead (38-26) with three minutes to go in the third quarter, capping a 10-point quarter for the junior.
“It’s a lot less stressful that we don’t have to play them again in three weeks,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. It marks the first time in his tenure (2005) that the teams will only play once. “We’ll miss that, we want to play them a second time because this game brings so much out of everyone. The kids really care, it matters to them, it’s like a state tournament game. That’s why we do this, it’s not for the 40-point wins or losses, it’s for games like this that you can find a way to play your best and gut out a win.
“They’re a good basketball team, we knew they’d hit some shots so our job was just to minimalize it to the best of our ability, and I thought we did that. They had a strategy to try and offset things we were doing but we were able to rotate, force a few turnovers, and got a lot of deflections to disrupt what they were trying to do. That’s just guys having a high basketball IQ and being committed for 32 minutes. I think that was a difference, we were locked in the whole game.”
Early threes from Davon Sanders (nine points, five assists, four rebounds, four steals) and Caden Colby (five points, six rebounds) gave the Hornets the lead off the bat, and Franklin was forced to play catch-up the rest of the way.
While the first quarter was more back-and-forth — which featured a pair of threes from Franklin senior Justin Allen (16 points, 5 rebounds) — a late triple from Sanders put the Hornets in front the rest of the way.
“I thought we played with pretty good pace, I just thought we didn’t take care of the basketball especially early in the basketball game,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely. “We were flying up and down, and getting it up the court quick…but you can’t decide when it’s time to play. I thought we came out very soft and very slow, and a bit careless with the ball. We usually move the ball a lot better, but we didn’t get it moving side to side like we like to do, and we didn’t get a lot of paint touches and that’s a credit to their defense.
“The second quarter really did us in. The lead got to nine or 10 points, and it’s hard to come back against a team like Mansfield because they grind it out, you have to be perfect. Give them credit because they out-executed us tonight.”
The lead held up thanks in part to Mansfield’s swarming defense, which limited Franklin to just 2-for-10 shooting in the second and five turnovers. The Panthers were strong on defense as well as they held the Hornets to just 10 points. JT Veiking came off the bench and scored all eight of his points in the first half to help give his squad a 27-18 lead at halftime.
“A game like this, and they do the same thing, you start preparing for this one a week ago,” Vaughan said. “You’re starting to put some stuff in, starting to talk about certain things, and you’re not using names but talking about things that will happen tonight. What we do as coaches, we’re not going to allow our teams to fail at our expense and we’re going to do everything we possibly can. If we play this game 100 times, we win 50 and they win 50, that’s just how these games go.
“When you play them, you empty everything and then try to come up with new stuff for the second time around. It’s just a chess match. Even the stuff CJ did with us tonight, that they haven’t done before. We both do our base stuff but there’s a wrinkle here, a wrinkle there. At the end of the day, they didn’t shoot as well as they’d like and if they shot better, it’s a different game. But that doesn’t take away from how committed and how hard we played and the plays we had to make. Every game with them is its own war and you just come up with twists and turns and trying to figure out how to gain one more basket because that’s what these games come down to.”
Foley didn’t take long to get going in the second half, finishing off a steal from Eddie McCoy (8 points, 5 assists) for the first bucket of the third quarter. Sanders added his third triple and Brandon Jackman converted a putback through traffic, and then Foley broke loose for a one-handed slam with authority for a 38-26 lead.
“It meant even more than it usually does because we only play them once so it’s a sweet victory,” Foley said. “It was a team effort. We moved the ball quickly on offense letting us create some driving lanes to the basket. We doubled [Sean] O’Leary on defense because he’s a great player but it was just smart, disciplined basketball and a team effort.”
The Panthers continued to claw back into it as Caden Sullivan splashed in a three early and had another three-point attempt in the air that just rimmed out that would have cut the deficit to four. Andrew O’Neill had a strong take to the rim to get it back to eight, but Foley answered on the other end.
“He missed some early ones that I thought would have created a little bit of separation, and he was frustrated with himself,” Vaughan said of Foley. “The thing you love about a kid like Foley is that he self-motivates. I don’t need to get on him about that, he knows how important a game like this is. I talked to him before the game about not fouling out and being able to cover a kid like O’Leary, and he did it. He stayed disciplined and he made everything difficult and that’s why we can win games because we have special players like him on the floor.”
Sean O’Leary (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) converted through contact and Franklin’s defense forced a turnover with just under three minutes to go. A miss on the front end of a one-and-one gave Mansfield possession back, and after using nearly the entire 35-second shot clock, Chris Hill drained a triple to extend the lead back to 10 with just over two minutes left.
“That was the key to the game just trying to minimize what they want to do,” Vaughan said. “We wanted to slow [O’Leary] down because he’s an elite level player in the league and then not giving up anything uncontested. There was a play late when we ran three kids at the ball, that was the focus. Our defense made a big difference.”
Mansfield boys basketball (8-1 Hockomock, 13-1 overall) is back in action on Friday with a trip to Canton. Franklin (8-1, 9-1) will try to bounce back from its first loss at home against Milford.
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