BOSTON - When Mansfield and Franklin met at the TD Garden in last year’s Good Sports Invitational, the Hornets prevailed by three points in a classic battle between two of the top programs in the Hockomock League.
Twelve months later, the Panthers were still thinking about that loss to their league rival as the clock started to wind down in the fourth quarter. During a timeout while trailing 49-44, first-year Franklin coach C.J. Neely challenged his team to clamp down on defense, hit the glass, and turn the game around.
The seniors responded.
Senior captain Dylan Reno scored seven points in the final minute, including a three-point play off an offensive rebound after Mansfield missed a chance to go up by seven, as Franklin went on a 13-2 run that was only ended by an inconsequential three by Michael Boen at the buzzer.
Senior center Marcus Geise (10 points, nine rebounds) then picked out Reno on a perfect cut through the middle for a layup to seal the game for Franklin inside the final minute. Franklin held on for a 57-54 victory -- ending Mansfield’s three-game win streak in the series.
“We always try to pound [Marcus] the ball and when he gets stopped I just try to cut off him because we’ve been playing together for years and we know what we’re thinking,” said Reno about the play that made it 55-51 and had Franklin in control.
He added, “After losing to Mansfield twice last year…we needed to get this win. I needed this one.”
Neely said, “My favorite play of the game was when [Marcus] got doubled, we sent two cutters, and he hit Reno and I think that kind of sealed the deal. We wouldn’t want to go to anyone else other than [Dylan] and Geise in the stretch there. Two senior captains really kind of won the game for us on the offensive end.”
Franklin had led for the majority of the game. Senior captain Tim Prunier scored nine of his game-high 17 points in the first half and classmate Shawn Hanley scored six of his 13 to build a 24-21 advantage at the half. The Panthers clamped down on Mansfield’s two stars, Ryan Boulter and Boen, holding the pair to just seven points in the first half.
“I thought defensively they did a really good job,” said Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan, who also noted that his stars had played a combined 60 minutes against ranked opponents in the span of 24 hours following a win over Taunton on Friday. “We had to come out at halftime and make some adjustments in the way we were doing some things.”
The adjustments seemed to work, as the Hornets started to create space for Boulter, who was being guarded by the smaller Prunier. Boulter (13 points) scored nine points in the quarter, including five straight that gave Mansfield its first lead at 30-29. The Hornets would lead 38-36 heading to the fourth but the Panthers held Mansfield’s leading scorer to just two free throws in the final quarter.
The Hornets looked poised to sneak out with another win in the rivalry after sophomore guard Christian Weber hit a three-pointer from the corner and classmate Max Ehrlich hit a pull-up jumper that made it 49-44. After a defensive stand, Mansfield could not get a good look and Reno made the first of several big plays down the stretch to turn the game around.
“Down the stretch, we just had to dig in,” said Reno. Prunier added, “We always talk about executing our plays, running it through, and trusting our offense and trusting our teammates.”
Boen, who also had 14 rebounds and five assists in addition to his 12 points, said, “I think we just let up on the defensive end a little bit. Not communicating and giving up easy baskets really hurt us towards the end of the game.”
Vaughan gave all the credit to the Panthers for making sure the game was played at their style and pace and handing the Hornets their first loss of the season.
“Dylan and Timmy playing both of these guys (Boulter and Boen) did a great job and Marcus kind of roaming around and altering shots helped them,” he explained. “We wanted the game in the 60s and they wanted it in the 40s and it fell in the middle and they came out with the win.”
This was the first time that Neely has coached in the Franklin/Mansfield rivalry after making the switch from Foxboro and he was excited to make it a winning debut.
“It feels great,” he said with a barely hidden smile. “I don’t think I’ve beat Mansfield in like eight years so it’s nice to get one and especially here.”