WORCESTER, Mass. – There was no second half drama this time around.
After nearly blowing a double-digit cushion in the opening round of the playoffs, Franklin raced out to a huge first half lead and never looked back with a 73-36 rout of 7th seeded Framingham.
With the win, the Panthers return to the D1 Central Final for the second time in three years.
“I’m extremely happy,” Franklin head CJ Neely said of his team’s first half dominance. “I think they did an awesome job following our scouting report. We talked over the past few days about being better at engaging in the scouting report, knowing what their strengths are. They have two legitimate scorers on that team and we did a good job of taking them out and getting them out of their strengths. They missed some shots early and we rebounded pretty well and that kind of spurned us on to a nice run and gave us a cushion.”
It didn’t take long for Franklin to establish its dominance, forcing a turnover on Framingham’s first possession and getting stops on the next four. On the other end, Paul Mahon’s second make of the game, this one a three, capped a 9-0 start over the first two minutes of play.
Freshman Jay Dieterle pumped in nine of his team-high 15 points in the first quarter to give the Panthers a 20-5 edge at the end of eight minutes.
It was more of the same in the second quarter. Sophomore Connor Peterson was a force in the paint, scoring nine of Franklin’s first 11 points in the quarter. Defensively, the Panthers forced four turnovers in the first five minutes of the second quarter and forced the Flyers to go 0/7 from the floor in that stretch.
Framingham hit a pair of free throws in the quarter but did not connect on a field goal in the second. Josh Macchi scored inside and Mahon drained another three late in the quarter, giving Franklin a commanding 36-7 lead at the break.
“Tim [Prunier] actually brought that up right off the bat when we walked into the locker room at halftime.” Neely said about the team’s second half against Westford Academy, in which a 15 point lead evaporated in the second half. “He was reminding the guys about last game and talking about we needed to keep the pressure up. That was definitely an emphasis at halftime. We didn’t have to adjust a lot at halftime. We just wanted to stay with the plan, share the ball and execute.”
The Panthers got a good start to the second half as Dieterle sank a three, Prunier hit a pair of free throws and Mahon drove to the basket for two more to create a 43-7 lead.
Midway through the quarter, the Panthers were able to rest their starters. Senior Patrick Rodgers, sophomore Connor Goldstein and freshman Jalen Samuels all netted six points off the bench in the second half and junior Ryan Hodgkins added five points.
Dieterle added six rebounds to his 15 points while Peterson had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Mahon, a sophomore, was third in scoring with 10 points.
“I’ve told those guys they are varsity players, doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or a sophomore, once you’re here you’re a varsity player and you have to go out and be a varsity guy,” Neely said. “When Peterson is being aggressive he can be a dominate force in there and Jay, you would never know he was a freshman unless you looked at the roster.”
With the starters on the floor in the first half, Franklin’s defense was tenacious and the Flyers shot just 2/25 from the floor.
“Over the past four or so games, it’s something we’ve really been harping on, ” Neely said of the defense. “We were really upset with that five game skid, we felt like we left a couple on the table and it left us with a sour taste in our mouth. We’ve really been working hard on the defensive end, as hard as we ever have, and we’ve seen some improvement in the last two weeks.”
Franklin boys basketball (17-5) will now play top-seeded St. John’s Shrewsbury in the D1 Central Final on Wednesday, March 9th at 7:00, back at WPI. SJS (21-1) beat Wachusett in the other semifinal.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.