HANOVER, Ind. – For the first time since 2014, the Franklin College men's basketball team took the floor for an opening-round Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) Tournament contest, taking on the third-seeded Rose-Hulman Fightin' Engineers.
After playing two nail-biters in the regular season, the Grizzlies (12-14) and Engineers (17-9) enaged in another classic inside Hanover's Collier Arena. Facing a 10-point second half deficit, the Grizzlies were able to claw back and push the game into overtime and eventuall double overtime. Franklin's defense provided the edge in the dying seconds, snuffing out a pair of game-winning bids by the Engineers to capture an 88-87 win.
Sam Gutierrez finished with a career-high 29 points, sinking the tying and go-ahead free throws late in double OT. Borden Kennedy narrowly missed out on a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds while netting the points that extended the game into overtime and double overtime.
The Engineers had three separate chances to win the game at the buzzer, but were stymied by a Franklin defense that kept the team in the game in the second half while Franklin erased a 10-point second half deficit.
"We did some things at critical times tonight that we have done over this nine-game stretch and that helped us get this win. We built this stretch on defense and at the end of the day, it was another case of getting stops in double overtime when we absolutely needed them. Instead of getting frustrated about not being able to hit shots, we dug in and kept Rose off the board. In the end, our defense is what won us this game."
Both offenses started the game hot and stayed that way for the first 20 minutes of play. Gutierrez and Rose-Hulman's Charlie Aimone spear-headed their respective team's offensive attacks in the opening period, with Gutierrez pouring in 16 points in the opening half. Both team's efficiency from the floor kept the game close in the opening 20 minutes, with neither side holding a lead larger than five points. Franklin shot 56 percent (14-for-25) from the floor in the opening half, but trailed 41-37 when the teams headed into the locker room.
The two defenses took over early in the second half, as each side was made to work on each offensive possession. Franklin struggled to knock down shots early in the second half and with 11:04 to go in regulation, the Engineers held their largest lead of the game at 53-43.
But the Grizzlies would shake off that stretch and get right back in the game over the next five minutes, going on a 14-4 run to tie things up at 57 with 6:44 to play. The Engineers countered with eight straight points, but Franklin answered with a run of their own and with two minutes to play, the game sat tied at 68. Rose held a two-point lead in the final seconds of regulation, but Kennedy would connect on a driving layup with 11 seconds left to send the game to overtime tied at 74.
Down by a pair late in overtime, the Grizzlies turned to Kennedy once again to get them back to even. After drawing a foul on Craig McGee, Kennedy sank both free throws with five seconds left to tie the game at 82 and after McGee's go-ahead attempt in the last second went wide, the teams were headed to double overtime.
Layups from Kale Morris and Gutierrez staked the Grizzlies to their largest lead of the night at 86-83 with three minutes to go. Franklin wouldn't connect on a field goal the rest of the way, but their defense kept the Engineers from pulling away. Gutierrez sank both free throws with 34 seconds to go, putting the Grizzlies back in front and setting the stage for a dramatic finish that the defense left its fingerprints all over. Gutierrez stuffed a McGee layup with nine seconds to go and after two missed Franklin free throws, the defense swatted McGee again in the game's last seconds to close out the fourth win by a six-seed in HCAC Tournament history.
Morris finished with 22 points while Payton Mills added 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the year. Franklin shot 44.6 percent (29-for-65) from the field, going 8-for-24 from three and 22-for-30 from the line.
The Grizzlies are back on the court on Saturday (Feb. 23), taking on second-seeded Transylvania University in the semifinals of the HCAC Tournament. Tip-off from Collier Arena in Hanover is set for approximately 7:00 p.m.