FRANKLIN, Ind. – The Franklin College men's basketball team looked to move one step closer to a post-season berth on Wednesday (Feb. 13) night, taking on the Transylvania Pioneers in the first of two straight home games to close out the regular season.
When the final horn sounded, the Grizzlies (10-14, 8-9 HCAC) learned they had not only taken that step, but punched their ticket to the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) Tournament following a 101-81 win over the Pioneers (15-9, 12-5 HCAC). Franklin's win was their sixth in the last seven games and coupled with Manchester's loss on Wednesday secured the final spot in this year's six-team tournament field.
"They're so excited right now," Head coach Kerry Prather said after the win. "We know we're heading into this tournament playing as well as anyone in the league. This is as tough of a group that we've had in a long time. They'll get down and get after it every time down the floor. On top of that, we have gotten smarter throughout the year about how to balance aggressiveness and discipline. We didn't get back on our heels and get scared in the second half tonight when they turned to their press."
Franklin took the lead two minutes into the game and never let go of their edge, using a 15-0 run to stretch their advantage to 24-8 with 10 minutes to go in the first half. Franklin would stymie the Pioneers throughout the opening half, holding Transylvania to just 8-for-33 from the floor and 0-for-10 from three in the opening half, surging to a 51-22 lead at the break thanks to a clinic on the defensive end of the floor.
"We have played well defensively for the bulk of the season," Prather added. "We've ironed out what has ailed us on offense, but our defense has kept getting better all year. Transylvania is a good team and a tough team to guard and we starved them in the first half to take that big lead into the break."
Desperate to get back in the game, the Pioneers dialed up the intensity on defense to start the second half, coming out of the break with a full-court press. The move proved to be a fruitful one, as the Pioneers slowly began to chip away at the lead and cut the deficit from 29 down to 14 at 74-60 with 8:36 to play.
But it proved to come too late as the Grizzlies knocked down timely shots to stifle the rally before closing out the game at the line. Franklin went 26-for-30 at the line in the second half alone, taking advantage of the Pioneers' aggressive approach on defense that led to 21 fouls over the final 20 minutes.
Junior Borden Kennedy set a new career-high with 25 points and added seven assists to lead all players in both categories. The Attica, Ind.-native went 5-for-8 from the floor, knocking down 15 of his 16 free throw attempts. Kale Morris knocked down six threes on his way to a 21-point night while Sam Gutierrez and Payton Mills added 19 points each. Franklin shot 54 percent (27-for-50) from the field, going 10-for-20 from three and an 37-for-43 from the line.
Matt Krause grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds, but the Pioneers finished the night with a 42-41 edge on the glass. Turnovers were 18-11 in Transylvania's favor.
The Grizzlies close out the regular season on Saturday (Feb. 13) afternoon, hosting Bluffton University. Tip-off from the Spurlock Center is set for approximately 4:00 p.m.