Sunday, March 5, 2017

Late Surge Lifts Franklin Past St. Peter-Marian in D1 Central Semis

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

WORCESTER, Mass. - It wasn't easy, but eventually Franklin's defense and outside shooting overwhelmed St. Peter-Marian in Sunday's Division 1 Central semifinal at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Powered largely by a 12-0 run midway through the third quarter, Franklin overcame a four-point halftime deficit to knock off St. Peter-Marian 54-44. The Panthers move on to face St. John's (Shrewsbury) in the D1 Central Friday at Worcester State.

Early on, the game had the feel of a potential upset, as recently returned St. Peter-Marian (15-7) sophomore DeMarr Langford swatted a pair of shots, grabbed 5 boards and scored six points to pace the Guardians in the first quarter. The 6-foot-6 super sop had his way in the post for SPM, which is why Franklin (20-2) switched to doubling Langford in the post after halftime, and took the ball right at him offensively in an attempt to get the shot blocker into foul trouble.

Both strategies paid off, as Langford scored just two points in the second half, and fouled out, via technical foul, early in the fourth quarter.

"There was an adjustment of, we did double the post a little bit," Franklin coach C.J. Neely said. "Langford was really doing a number of us... We just wanted to make his life a little tougher, crowd his space, make his shots tougher. He's a good player, he's gonna get some points, but a slight adjustment there with the doubling of the post."

During a sluggish early start, one player did rise up and keep Franklin in the game. Senior guard Connor Goldstein, starting in place of the injured Paul Mahon, scored Franklin's first 14 points, hitting four consecutive three-pointers in the first quarter.

"(Goldstein) hit, I think, the third (three-pointer) and I was just screaming," freshman guard Chris Edgehill said of his teammate's hot shooting. "I was excited. I was smiling that first quarter, even though it was a close game."

Goldstein finished with a career high 23 points, but it was Edgehill who pushed the Panthers over the top in the second half. The freshman scored 11 second half points, including back-to-back threes during Franklin's 12-0 third quarter run, to help the Panthers turn a four-point deficit into a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"Chris is a great player," Goldstein said. "He comes in, (with) no experience under his belt, and he just takes over. He can really lead us... And he's our main ball-handler, so we can just trust him with the ball all the time."

In the final frame, Franklin salted the game away by playing great defense. Three SPM turnovers in a span of two minutes turned into six Franklin points, pushing the Panther lead to 48-39 midway through the fourth. Continued stellar defense, and some solid free throw shooting put the game on ice.

"Coach definitely did say something (at halftime), but it was just, as a team, we all noticed that we were getting pushed around out there," Edgehill said. "We needed to play Franklin basketball, smash-mouth basketball, and bring it to them. So, that's what we did in the second half, and it showed."

Franklin now moves on to face St. John's (Shrewsbury), the team that has eliminated Franklin the last three years, twice in the D1 Central championship game. Still, if this group has revenge on its mind, it sure isn't showing.

"Whoever wins (the other semifinal), we're excited about it," coach Neely said with a smile before the St. John's-Holy Name game began. "I don't need anybody to win. Doesn't matter to me, as long as we come to ready to play (Friday), we'll be happy."

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