FRANKLIN, Ind. – The Franklin men's basketball team took to the Spurlock Center on Wednesday (Jan. 8) night for their first home contest of the new year. Standing opposite the Grizzlies was the Transylvania Pioneers, who were in town for a rematch of last year's semifinal game at the conference tournament.
The Grizzlies (8-4, 4-1 HCAC) rode a scalding-hot shooting performance in the opening 20 minutes to a 16-point halftime lead. But the Pioneers (6-6, 2-3 HCAC) countered in the second half, clawing all the way back and taking the lead late in the game. But the Grizzlies dug in during the final minute, holding Transy to just one bucket in the final 4:10 of the game and earning a pivotal 84-81 win to run their winning streak to five in a row.
"When you survive a game like this it has the chance to really strengthen your team," Head coach Kerry Prather said afterwards. "We put our backs up against the wall, dug in defensively and won the game. That's not how we would prefer to script this, but when you have to figure it out the way we did, it's going to make us a stronger team. We stepped up to the challenge and beat a really good team."
Franklin's offense stole the show in the opening 20 minutes, with the Grizzlies shooting 76% (19-for-25) from the field. A five-minute stretch that produced a 10-2 Franklin run put the hosts up by double digits for the first time at 23-12 with 10 minutes left before the break. Transy got within five by the five-minute mark, but the Grizzlies would counter with a 16-5 run to close out the opening period and take a 50-34 edge into the half.
The Pioneers countered with a guard-heavy lineup and full-court press to start the second half in search of getting back in the game. The moves paid off and the Pioneers were back within single digits by the 16-minute mark.
Kale Morris and Matt Krause connected on a pair of threes to keep the Pioneers at bay with 10 minutes left, extending Franklin's lead to 68-59. But a 12-2 Transylvania run would follow and with 6:15 to play, the Pioneers held their first lead of the night at 71-70.
The teams traded the lead four times over the next two minutes before six straight Transy points gave the hosts their largest lead of the night at 79-75 with 4:10 left. But Franklin's defense would come up huge over the next four minutes, holding the Pioneers scoreless while the offense forged a comeback.
Free throws from Morris and Borden Kennedy cut the lead to one and with 40 seconds left, Morris put the Grizzlies back in front with a driving layup through traffic that just beat the shot clock and made it 80-79.
The Pioneers came up empty on their next trip down the floor and two Gutierrez free throws made it a three-point game with 19 seconds go to. Devin Twenty put back a miss with six seconds left to cut the lead to one, but Morris knocked down two free throws immediately afterwards to restore a three-point lead. Gabe Schmitt's game-tying attempt with a second on the clock with get nothing but iron and the Grizzlies celebrated their second straight home win over the Pioneers.
Payton Mills led Franklin with 18 points in 21 minutes of action, going 8-for-9 from the floor. Morris added 17 while Krause collected a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double. Kennedy and Gutierrez joined their teammates in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Gutierrez handed out eight assists to lead all players with Kennedy dishing out six helpers. Franklin shot 69.2% (27-for-39) on the night, going 8-for-12 from three and 22-for-29 from the line.
Next up for the Grizzlies is the first of three straight games away from home when they take on the Anderson Ravens on Saturday (Jan. 11) afternoon. Sole possession of first place in the league is up for grabs, as both teams enter the weekend with identical 4-1 records in league play. Tip-off is set for 3:00 p.m.