Deprived of one of its primary weapons against a county and conference rival, the Franklin boys basketball team found another way to get where it needed to go.
The Grizzly Cubs, normally a 3-point shooting team, made just one shot from behind the arc all night, but it used an effective drive-and-dish attack to earn a 59-46 triumph against Whiteland in Friday night’s first semifinal game at the Class 4A Greenwood Sectional.
Franklin (15-9) will face Center Grove in tonight’s championship game.
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“We try to spread the floor when we know we can’t get those open (3-point) looks,” said Franklin junior Cory Richards, who finished with 15 points in the win. “When we spread the floor, we’re able to get those dribble drives.”
Neither team found much of a rhythm during a ragged, physical first quarter that featured more turnovers (13) than points (10), though the Grizzly Cubs were able to end the frame up 8-2 after Luke Miles beat the horn with a short jumper. Whiteland crept back to get as close as 19-16 late in the second quarter before Franklin rebuilt its lead with a key sequence in the final minute. Following a Richards basket, Reece Thomson stole the inbounds pass and laid it in to give his team a 25-16 cushion.
Thomson helped the Grizzly Cubs extend the margin into double digits early in the third, hitting a 3-pointer and then adding a steal and a layup to make it 32-21. The Warriors (11-13) fell behind by as many as 12 before battling back, getting 3s from Carter Crowe and Luke Helton to get within six, 39-33, with 22 seconds left in the period.
For each Whiteland push, however, Franklin seemed to have an answer. When another Helton 3 got the Warriors within four, 50-46, with 3:36 remaining, Thomson fed Drew Byerly for a bucket down low and then hit a pair of foul shots to push the lead back to eight. The Grizzly Cubs were able to close it out from there.
“When you get behind against Franklin and you start to pressure the ball a little bit more, they seemed to do a good job of finding a way to score on the back cut or penetration,” Whiteland coach Matt Wadsworth said. “Franklin did a nice job of spreading the floor, attacking with the drive.”
Thomson led all scorers with 17 points for Franklin, while Byerly added 13. Crowe was the lone Whiteland player in double figures with 16 points.