STORY BY JAKE DONOVAN | PHOTO BY DEB SCALLY
The Franklin Rebels remain unbeaten in 2019, but don’t mistake their 8-0 record in January as a perfect stretch.
As has been the case in several games over that period—including three of its last four wins—the Rebels once again found themselves in a dogfight, fending off a determined Independence Eagles squad to prevail 78-69 in district play Tuesday evening at Franklin High School.
Senior guard and Missouri Western State commit Reese Glover scored a team-high 23 points among eight different Rebel players who scored at least two points by the end of the first half.
It required a complete team effort, considering the spirited fight put up by the Eagles particularly in the final 16 minutes.
“All wins are good wins, but I tell ya…you have to give Independence credit,” Franklin head coach Darrin Joines told the Home Page. “That team just never lays down. In fact, I think they played even harder than the last time we faced them. They certainly lengthened the game, which is a credit to them.”
In their previous meeting just over a month ago, Independence played Franklin well for more than two quarters before the bottom eventually fell out. It was a bit of role reversal this time around, with the Eagles getting off to a sluggish start before finding the bottom of the net in a 47-point second half.
“It goes to show the character of these outstanding young men,” Independence head coach Doug Keil said of his valiant squad. “We just always fight, always battle. Unfortunately, we missed a lot of layups and had a lot of turnovers. You can’t do that against a good team; honestly you can’t do that against a bad team either.”
Franklin’s ability to minimize turnovers prevented what could’ve easily become a full-scale meltdown. The Rebel shooters were hot in the first half, opening up to a 10-2 lead and watching it continue to grow as Franklin drained six threes in the first two quarters.
Independence finally had a response once the second half began. Down 44-22 heading into the 3rd quarter and then trailing by as much as 25, the Eagles finally managed a rally while minimizing the Rebels’ time on offense. Preston Garner went for 11 of his game-high 24 in the 3rd quarter, matching Bruce and Glover on threes to open the period before his teammates joined in on the fun.
“Preston shot the lights out and we certainly can use that down the line,” Keil noted. “We just have to be consistent. But he works so hard, has a great attitude and is extremely coachable.”
A three-pointer by Noah Morrison sparked an 11-0 run spanning more than three minutes before sophomore forward Connor Beavon converted on an offensive rebound to put the Rebels back up by 16 with still 10:00 of game time. Back-to-back threes by Trey St. Charles and Garner suddenly had the Eagles within 10 heading into the 4th quarter.
Franklin enjoyed a 7-3 run to begin the 4th quarter and extend its lead to 14. The problem, however, was offensive continuity—and also finding a way to neutralize Independence’s suddenly hot shooters.
“We had some big shots, made some good passes to preserve the win,” noted Joines. “But man, they just kept scoring. That Garner kid, my goodness he just kept hitting threes.”
Garner hit five of them, half of Independence’s 10 from behind the arc on the night.
“I just came out, I knew my team was way down and I had to get hot,” Garner acknowledged. “I came out shooting, hit I think three threes in a row and just felt like I was on a roll. Coach always teaches off until the final buzzer goes off. Fight every possession until you hear the whistle.”
That very fight stretched out a 4th quarter which lasted nearly 30 minutes in real time thanks to numerous loose balls and seemingly most of the 39 fouls combined fouls called in the final eight minutes. Franklin made the most of their frequent trips to the line, while Independence struggled on its free throw attempts, which only added to the uphill battle they already faced.
“We made our free throws down the stretch, and were responsible with the ball,” pointed out Glover. “Those things will always win you basketball games.”
In the end, it was at least enough to keep the Eagles coming back within nine, the final margin of victory and one in which they never got any closer from the early portions of the 1st quarter through game’s end.
The next game for the Rebels is Franklin’s biggest game of the season—and not just because of Joines’ philosophy that your most important game is the next one you play.
This one cuts both ways, as the District 11-AAA leading Rebels—now 12-1 in-house—will face their crosstown rivals and the only team to defeat them in district play this season in the Centennial Cougars.
The two squads meet again on Rivalry Night Friday, with the “Battle of Franklin” taking place at Centennial’s house after storming into Franklin High School and winning on a buzzer-beater in their thriller last December.
“It will be fun, a great atmosphere,” admits Joines. “This is what you play for and what you coach for, If you can’t get up for this game, go check your pulse.”