The Hornets needed a basket.
With two elite defenses going at it, points were at a premium on Friday night and Mansfield’s 15-point lead over Franklin had dwindled down to three, having scored just four points in a six-minute span between the third and fourth quarters.
Franklin’s attempt at a tying three rimmed out and the Hornets got just what they needed, scoring on three of their next four possessions to finish strong and earn a 48-38 win over the previously undefeated Panthers.
The Hornets drew three fouls on one possession, getting into the bonus where Dante James hit a pair of free throws to extend the hosts’ lead to five, 41-36. Another open three from Franklin was off the mark and the Hornets survived a turnover as James went back to the line for two more.
After Caden Colby drew an offensive foul on the baseline to get the ball back, junior Chris Hill drove to the basket to draw the defense before dishing to senior Andrew Slaney for a wide-open three from the corner to put Mansfield up double-digits with just under two minutes to go.
“That was a good old-fashioned fistfight,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “We had to come down and get some points, it felt like we hadn’t scored much in the last couple of minutes. We had made a few silly plays and started to get a little passive. We got some points to push it to five and then Slaney hit the three a couple of possessions after and that was kind of the backbreaker.
“It’s a huge win, this is always one you get anxious about, you lose sleep over it…you’re watching a lot of game film, trying to be prepared. We know CJ [Neely] is going to do such a good job of knowing what we’re going to do so you feel like you’ve got to match that to give your kids a fighting chance. Any time you get can get a win against them in the league, now we’re playing from ahead instead of behind in the league race and that’s a big deal.”
The game got off to a hot start for both offenses, combining for 19 points over the first four minutes, but both defenses started to settle in as the game went on. After Mansfield won the opening quarter 18-12, the two squads combined for just 15 points (10-5 Mansfield) in the second quarter.
Defense continued to be the theme in the second half. Mansfield’s lead peaked at 15 points after Matt Hyland (17 points, 12 rebounds, two steals) had a three-point play and a breakaway layup sandwiched around a strong take from Hill (seven points, five rebounds, five assists) to make it 35-20 with three minutes to play in the third.
The Panthers came out of the timeout with a renewed energy as sophomore Henry Digiorgio (11 points, six rebounds) drained a three off of an offensive rebound and junior John Brigham had a big block that led to a shot clock violation.
Digiorgio and James traded buckets before Brigham converted a putback and Sean O’Leary tacked on a free throw to pull Franklin within single digits, 37-28, going into the final quarter.
O’Leary scored on a nice post move to open the fourth and after a brief scoreless stretch from both sides, junior Justin Allen sank a three-pointer to get the visitors within four at 37-33.
Franklin got the stop it needed but couldn’t convert on a three and James dished it off to Hyland for two after a big rebound from Eddie McCoy. The Panthers quickly answered as Ben Harvey got into the paint to draw the help, finding Allen open for another three to make it 39-36 with four minutes left.
The Panthers got another stop and got a good look at the tying three but it stayed out and the Hornets called a timeout. They ended up finishing the game on a 9-2 run.
“I thought we had a lot of great looks…but 38 points isn’t going to get it done,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “I really believe in what we were doing, I thought the ball was moving really well, they were composed, they made the passes, and we got some really, really good looks for guys that we’re used to seeing make shots, uncontested threes. This was a night where they hit some of their open ones and we didn’t.
“I’m really proud of the defense and the way that we responded after we went down, we had a shot in the air to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. But we just didn’t make our looks.”
Mansfield opened the game hitting nearly 80% of its shots, hitting on 7-of-9 attempts from the field, including a trio of three-pointers. Slaney, Hill, and Jack Lasbury-Casey each connected from downtown while Hyland attacked the rim for a pair of field goals. The Hornets only hit a pair of threes the rest of the way, including Slaney’s second with just two minutes left.
Digiorgio hit a pair of threes in the opening quarter but the Panthers were limited to one three in each the second and third quarters, finishing 6-for-25 from three-point range. Franklin ended up with 11 more field goal attempts than the hosts, and also struggled at the free throw line going 2-for-10.
“A lot of these guys were playing freshman basketball last year, they didn’t even get the JV experience because of COVID,” Neely said. The Panthers started three sophomores and two juniors. “It’s a pretty big jump from that to playing Mansfield’s varsity team in an environment like this. I really think they played well and had a good game but some of the shots just didn’t fall. We did what we had to do to get some great looks against one of the best defensive teams in the league so I was impressed with their response.”
Mansfield boys basketball (5-0 Hockomock, 7-0 overall) is back in action on Monday with a big non-league showdown at BC High. Franklin (4-1, 7-1) has a big test this weekend when it travels to Taunton on Sunday afternoon.