TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Facing a double-digit deficit in the first half, the Franklin men's basketball team faced an uphill climb if they wanted to remain atop the conference. But with a defense that made every possession tough and an offense that came through all night, the Grizzlies were able to overcome that deficit to knock off Rose-Hulman 73-71 in their final road game of the regular season.
The Grizzlies (15-7, 11-4 HCAC) battled back from down 12 in the first half to tie the game by halftime. Late in the game, Franklin's veteran-led group got buckets when they needed them and several critical stops on defense to stun the Engineers (11-11, 8-7 HCAC). Franklin completed a season sweep of their in-state rival, winning in the Hulbert Center for the first time since Jan. 27, 2010.
"We shot the ball well and that's what you have to do against Rose," Head coach Kerry Prather said after the win. "But the bottom line is it took our defense digging in to chop into that deficit and hold onto our lead late in the game. We grabbed some big rebounds, showed great discipline and knocked down some big free throw late to seal it and that's how you win on the road in this league."
The teams came out firing before Rose was able to rattle off the game's first big run. Leading by three mid-way through the first half, the Engineers went on a 12-3 run that gave them a 23-11 lead with eight minutes to play in the period. But the Grizzlies would find their rhythm on offense as the period wound down, surging back into the game with a 15-2 run that gave them a 29-28 lead with 3:36 to go in the half.
Junior Ismail Jones proved to be the catalyst of the run, coming off the bench to score all 10 of his points as Franklin made their move to get out of the early hole. Sam Gutierrez' buzzer-beating jumper sent the teams into the intermission tied at 36, setting the stage for a dramatic second half.
The two teams stayed within a possession of each other for the first 12 minutes of the final half, with seven ties and seven leads exchanged. Two free throws from Rose's John Czarnecki evened things up at 62 with 4:31 to play in what proved to be the final time the two sides would be tied the rest of the night.
On their next possession, Franklin got a big offensive rebound and three to follow from Matt Krause to make it a 65-62 game with 3:54 to go. Following a stop on the defensive end, the visitors took their biggest lead of the night thanks to a Payton Mills layup that stretched the lead to five with 3:29 to play.
Franklin's final six points came courtesy of Borden Kennedy at the free throw line with the biggest ones coming following an offensive rebound from Mills with 17 seconds left and Franklin ahead by three. When the final horn sounded, a fired-up Franklin bench poured out onto the floor to celebrate clinching a spot in the HCAC Tournament for the second straight year.
Gutierrez had a monster second half, scoring 13 of his team-high 20 points in the final 20 minutes. Franklin shot 42.4% (25-for-59) from the field, going 11-for-27 from three and 12-for-16 from the free throw line. Kennedy had a game-high eight assists and Mills finished with a team-high eight boards. Franklin took exception care of the ball, with their seven turnovers setting a new season-low total.
The Grizzlies sit all alone in first place in the HCAC with three games to go. Each of those games will be played in the Spurlock Center, with the first coming on Saturday (Feb. 15) afternoon against the Anderson Ravens. Tip-off is set for 3:00 p.m.