FRANKLIN – With Mansfield chipping away at a double-digit deficit and gaining momentum late in the third quarter, Franklin needed an answer.
However at that time, the Panthers were without its top two players in junior Jalen Samuels and sophomore Chris Edgehill on the floor.
That could have spelt doom for Franklin if it weren’t for senior Matt Elias. Elias, who finished with 17 points, stemmed the tide with a couple key plays to allow the Panthers to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 67-52 Hockomock League win Friday night.
“Jalen and Chris were both out and we were trying to survive that for as long as we could,” said Franklin coach CJ Neely. “Obviously having both those guys out is not ideal. It’s not how you draw it up. I said to myself, ‘If we keep this thing around 10, we’re going to be in great shape to have those guys come back in the fourth quarter.’
“Matt’s been there for us all season and he was there again tonight for us. I’m proud of him.”
A 9-2 run to begin the third quarter put Franklin (8-1, 5-1) in control up, 40-22, but Mansfield (7-2, 5-1) wouldn’t go away easily.
The Hornets responded with an 11-2 run capped when Ryan Otto scored off a putback to cut the deficit to 42-33 with 2:03 remaining in the third quarter.
Two minutes prior, Edgehill (14 points) picked up his fourth foul on a charge and Samuels (game-high 18 points) also went to the bench, as the Panthers tried to halt Mansfield’s run without them.
Elias gave Franklin a much-needed spark as him and John McCoy (14 points) exchanged 3-pointers before Elias grabbed an offensive rebound and converted the basket prior to the buzzer to give the Panthers a 47-36 lead after three quarters.
“People know that we have a lot of guys on this team that can score so even with Jalen and Chris on the bench, we just keep a level head and keep trying to be ourselves and play Franklin basketball,” Elias said. “We were able to get it done with them out and carried momentum into the fourth quarter.”
Elias continued his phenomenal stretch by knocking down a triple to open the fourth quarter – he scored eight straight points for Franklin when Edgehill received his fourth foul.
Mansfield stuck around, though, and got the deficit back into single digits, 51-42, on a bucket from Sam Hyland with 5:18 left.
But the Hornets wouldn’t hang around for long as the Panthers went on a 14-4 run highlighted by Samuels’ second dunk of the contest to seal the…