The Falcons’ talent was on full display, and they got the most out of their size advantage to pick up their 45th straight win and second consecutive state championship with a 70-43 win over Franklin.
While the Panthers kept close for the first quarter, Cambridge built a double-digit lead going into the halftime break and never looked back.
“It wasn’t our best game, but [Cambridge] does a lot to make that happen,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “This wasn’t like the teams we had played during the year, when you drive to the lane, you get some space, all of a sudden there’s a 6’9 guy there cleaning everything up. It’s hard, he’s a good player and a difference maker for those guys in the interior.
“I thought we got to spots we usually get to in games and we tried to find his man when he came to block shots, but we couldn’t do that. And he’s tough on the boards and it’s not just him either, there’s a bunch of them out there. It’s a tough matchup.”
The 6’9 player that Neely referenced is Cambridge senior Dimon Carrigan, who proved to be the biggest difference maker. Beyond his game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds, Carrigan notched an impressive nine blocks and altering plenty of other shots, making it difficult for the Panthers to get anything inside.
“We had seen Franklin,” said Cambridge head coach Lance Dottin. “For us, we’re just going to compete every single possession – I said to them ‘when you get can to that level, you’re going to become a champion.’ I think you saw that, especially in the second half, we competed for every single possession and we were fortunate to come out on top.”
Franklin freshman Chris Edgehill scored seven of his team-high 12 points in the opening frame to help the Panthers keep pace with the Falcons. Edgehill’s step back three gave Franklin a 5-4 lead three minutes in and a three point play from sophomore Jalen Samuels (eight points, eight rebounds, three blocks) put the Panthers up 8-6.
But Cambridge’s Malik Brandao-Correia drained a three with a minute to play and Carrigan scored inside for a 17-12 lead after one.
Although Franklin kept it close in the first, its offense stalled in the second quarter, managing just six points on 2/11 shooting from the field.
Cambridge rattled off a 10-3 run over the first six and a half minutes of the second quarter. Samuels hit one free throw with 5:44 to play in the first half, but didn’t score again until Matt Elias drained a three with 1:15 to go. In that stretch the Panthers had an uncharacteristic seven turnovers.
“We’ve some teams like that but not to that caliber,” said junior captain Paul Mahon “They’re a great team, they play well together. They have a lot of height, a lot of talent. I think we’re capable of beating that team but not tonight. They’re a very talented team.”
Also in that time span, Franklin big man Connor Peterson — the Panthers’ counterpart for Carrigan — came back in after picking up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game. But his second stint was cut short because of his third foul.
“It kills you, to be honest,” Neely said of how the fouls change the game plan. “Those two quick ones — he’s our big guy, he’s going to go out there and battle. He’s usually allowed to be pretty physical, we kind of expected it not to be a high whistle game since it was the state final. We knew it’d be physical. They were both legit fouls but losing him, we had to put him back in because it’s the state final and he picked one up right away. It changes his game, he played a lot more hesitant.”
Cambridge extended its lead to 20 points just three minutes into the third quarter but the Panthers were able to claw back into the game.
Edgehill hit back to back buckets, the latter turning into a conventional three point play. Samuels then added two free throws to cut it to 13. Cambridge committed an offensive foul, Franklin broke the press and had a transition three attempt to cut it to 10, but the shot was short.
Cambridge then finished the third quarter with a 6-0 run to go up 49-30. The Falcons started the fourth with four straight points to go up 53-30. Franklin was unable to shrink the deficit the rest of the way.
“The kids have nothing to hang their heads about, they’ve gone further than any other team has in Franklin school history,” Neely said. “I told them ‘you’re going to put a banner up in the gym for being a sectional champion and you got to play in a state final. You’re probably the best Franklin team that;’s ever played. So there’s a lot to be proud of. We couldn’t get it done tonight but I think the true state champion won tonight, I think the best team in the state won. We were up for the challenge but I don’t think we were ready to play at this level.
Peterson finished with six points, Mahon added five points and senior Josh Macchi hauled in five boards.
While the Panthers will have to find a replacement for Macchi and sharpshooter Connor Goldstein, two of four graduating seniors along with James Hanlon and Michael Doherty, the future does look bright with four starters set to return for the 2017-2018 season.
“Great group of guys coming back,” Neely said. “We’ll certainly miss our seniors, they brought a lot to the table. One thing that made this team unique, and hopefully we can recreate it, is the unselfishness, the team first mentality…that’s something we try to pride ourselves on. This is the first team that really 100% bought in. There wasn’t a jealous moment, there was never an ‘I want mine’ moment, it was always about Franklin. It’s the best I’ve ever seen team chemistry come together in a season, that’s why I think we were able to make a run.”
“It’s been a crazy run,” Mahon said. “We always focus on the day to day stuff and we didn’t think we could get to this point. But we did, and it was really fun to be apart of this team. We’ll be back here.”
Franklin boys basketball finishes the season 22-5.