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Grizzlies open HCAC Tourney at Defiance

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Familiarity is never an issue for Franklin College men’s basketball coach Kerry Prather this time of year.

Case in point: the Grizzlies’ game at Defiance College tonight in a first-round matchup to help start the annual Heartland Collegiate

Athletic Conference Tournament.

Only three days have passed since the Yellow Jackets defeated Franklin 72-63 at the Spurlock Center Gymnasium, a victory responsible for Prather’s squad making the three-hour road trip to Ohio’s northwestern corner. The Grizzlies also played at Defiance on Dec. 15, losing 64-60.

“Overall, it’s really two evenly matched teams, so I’m not sure it makes a difference where the game is played,” said Prather, whose program had captured four HCAC tourney titles, the most recent being in 2007-08.

In Saturday’s loss, the Grizzlies experienced difficulty containing 6-foot-4 Defiance guard Logan Wolfrum. The senior scored 27 points and takes the court this evening averaging 18.7 points, having delivered on 50 of 114 3-point attempts (.439) and 121 of 149 free-throw opportunities (.812).

Wolfrum has scored 20 or more points in 10 of his 25 starts this season, including both victories against Franklin.

Prather also remains cognizant of his team’s offensive struggles at certain points of games.

“The struggle has been to score when we need to score,” said Prather, whose squad after averaging 70.2 points in its first 20 games has averaged 64.2 in its past five. “We’re at our best when we score in transition. We’re not as patient as we always need to be in the half court. When we are in those situations we have to leverage those matchups better than we did Saturday.”

This has been one of the youngest teams Prather has coached since taking over the Grizzlies program before the 1983-84 season. The roster includes one senior, but it’s a good one in 6-5 swingman Gunner Erwin, the team’s top rebounder (5.8) and second-leading scorer (15.8).

Junior guard Bailey Howard’s 18.3 scoring norm leads the way for Franklin College. J.T. Barton, a 6-1 junior out of Center Grove who has been in Prather’s starting lineup on 14 occasions this season, averages 7.6.

The challenges of postseason competition never cease to excite Prather. If the Grizzlies prevail tonight, they would play tournament top seed Rose-Hulman on Friday night on the Engineers’ home floor.

Rose-Hulman swept the two regular-season matchups, defeating Franklin College 58-42 at the Spurlock Center in January and 72-63 on Feb. 6.

“I have so enjoyed this season and these kids. You just don’t want this season to end,” Prather said. “This team has great chemistry because of kids who are really invested in what we are doing and very unselfish. Every day has been enjoyable.”

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