It looked as though Franklin’s boys basketball team would cruise to victory in Friday’s home showdown with Mid-State Conference rival Martinsville and clinch a share of the league title in the process.
The Artesians had other ideas but fell just short of stopping the Grizzly Cubs from what appeared to be an inevitable outcome at first.
Franklin shot a sizzling 76.5 percent in the first quarter and built a 31-15 lead, but Martinsville quickly rallied, scoring the game’s next 13 points. From there, the Cubs held off several Artesian rallies and claimed a wild 81-77 victory.
The win assured the Grizzly Cubs of no worse than a tie for the conference crown, as they stayed perfect (5-0) in league play. They still have a Feb. 17 home showdown with Plainfield, which lost to Decatur Central on Friday 65-64 to fall to 2-2 in conference games. Only the Hawks (4-1) have less than two conference losses among other Mid-State teams, and Franklin defeated them 53-30 in the Dec. 2 season opener.
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Franklin’s three-guard backcourt dominated the scoring and helped the Cubs to a 64.4 percent field-goal shooting effort (29 of 45). Jacob Rockey hit 8 of 10 from the floor and all 10 of his free throws en route to a game-high 26 points. He hit all six of his free throws in the game’s final minute, fending off a Martinsville comeback.
“Our defense wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be, but we relied on our shot-making,” Rockey said. “At the end, we were more patient, waited for our shot and hit our free throws.”
Rockey’s backcourt mates, Cory Richards and Reece Thomson, added 16 and 21 points, respectively. Richards got the Cubs’ offense started, scoring eight points in the game’s first four minutes, while Thomson scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter.
“We got a lot of composure out of Rockey, steady post play from Hunter Gross and Tyler Craft and a lot of points out of our sophomore guards (Richards and Thomson),” Franklin coach Brad Dickey said. “We won the conference for the second year in a row, and now we’re playing with house money.”
Martinsville (5-9) responded quickly to the Cubs’ first-quarter dominance, hitting 8 of 12 from the floor in the second quarter and limiting Franklin to eight second-quarter points. They tied the game on two occasions midway through the third, but never led.
Franklin built its lead back up to 10 twice in the fourth quarter. The Artesians cut it to 71-69 with 1:08 to play when Reid Staggs hit a 3-pointer, but in what might have been a game-saving play, on Franklin’s next possession, Craft retrieved an errant pass that was headed out of bounds about 25 feet from the basket, then threw a long, one-handed pass to Thompson, who converted a layup with 58 seconds to play. Martinsville never drew closer than four points after that.
“Martinsville has a gutsy group with a lot of good shooters,” Dickey said. “Our program is trying to grow, and while we’re happy with what we’ve achieved, we’ve got a lot of work left to do.”