BY JAKE DONOVAN
With all of the history between crosstown rivals Centennial and Franklin, it’s only fitting that the latest entry in the Battle of Franklin came down to a buzzer beater.
Junior swing Dusty Williams went the length of the court to drain a mid-range jumper as time expired, giving the visiting Centennial Cougars a dramatic 63-61 road win over the Franklin Rebels in their district matchup Friday evening at Franklin High School.
The literal last-second basket was among the 12 points Williams scored on the night, one of four Cougars players to hit double figures. Ben Brown and Tre Carlton each scored 14, with Carlton’s stellar play on both ends of the court providing just the spark Centennial needed to bounce back from Tuesday’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Independence.
“We put that game behind us the moment it ended and just put all our focus on this game,” said Carlton, with the junior point guard also adding six assists and five steals. “We knew what was waiting for us on the other side of the court, and came here to win and not accept any other outcome.”
The Cougars came flying out the gate, sprinting out to a 16-9 lead while getting production from every Centennial player who stepped on the court on Friday. The Rebels only led at one point on the night, when Jonathan Bruce (9 points, 3-5 from 3-point range) drained a three to put the Rebels up 6-5 midway through the first quarter.
It wasn’t until the 4th quarter when the Rebels would even tie the game, doing so twice. A layup by Reese Glover—who led all scorers with 29—capped an 18-6 rally after the Rebels trailed by as much as 12 midway through the third quarter. His game-tying bucket was immediately met with a 3-point play by Brown, who was a force in the paint all night for Centennial and a headache for Rebel defenders.
“Ben was just one of many tonight who really stepped up and found a way to make big plays,” Centennial head coach Peter Froedden told Home Page. “It seemed like every time we needed a basket, Ben found a lane to drive. When we needed a big rebound, Andrew (Ellison, 10 points, 7 rebounds) and Dusty were pulling them down.
“Just the all-around team effort was inspiring. These boys were dealing with personal tragedies, so much going on off the court, and came out as one cohesive unit tonight.”
It always help when a firm battle plan is in place. No team in middle Tennessee has yet to contain Glover, whose 29 points on the night is right around his season average. Centennial can’t exactly claim to have done so, but they made the senior and Missouri Western State commit work for each and every point.
“It was a great game, both teams played with a lot of intensity and they just did a great job defensively on us all night,” noted Glover. “I didn’t get a lot of good looks like I wanted, especially early in the game. Credit to Tre and their defense, that was the difference for most of the game.”
That the Rebels were even in position to rally in the 4th quarter wasn’t due to their usual offensive explosion, but their discipline and focus—particularly at the free throw line, where they were a perfect 15-15 on the night.
“That really says it all about these boys,” beamed Franklin head coach Darrin Joines, even in heartbreaking defeat. “In a game like this, where even though we’re home, Centennial’s got nearly their entire school making the trip for this rivalry game, it’s real easy to lose sight of the task at hand.
“We had to play catchup all night, I think we were down double digits for a lot of the 2nd and 3rd quarters. But if there’s one thing I take away from this game tonight, it’s the grit we showed in staying competitive and putting ourselves in a position where—when at times it seemed impossible—we actually had a clear shot to win.”
Most of the fourth quarter was spent with the two teams trading baskets and free throws after the Rebels erased the Cougars’ early wide margin. Senior center Ahsharri Haynesworth—caught in the Battle of Franklin rivalry more so than anyone on either side, having transferred from Centennial earlier this season—scored 8 of his 12 points in the final eight minutes, putting back an offensive rebound for a quick score to bring the Rebels within one inside of 4:00 of regulation.
Brown immediately responded with a basket of his own, scoring on an offensive rebound and assist by Ellison, who later matched a pair of Haynesworth free throws to keep the Cougars ahead by 3 inside of the final two minutes.
At this point, however, no lead was safe.
Glover found Bruce in the corner, with just enough room to launch and drain a game-tying three that prompted a roof-raising reaction from the Rebel bleachers.
A costly turnover by Centennial following a timeout gave the Rebels a shot at a win, but recovered just in time to aggressively defend Glover, whose forced jumper bounced off the left side of the rim. Senior second-string center Garrett Justice somehow came down with the loose ball, looking up and finding an open Williams with less than six seconds to go.
“We just love G, he always somehow finds a way to get his hands on the ball under the basket whenever we need a possession the most,” noted Williams. “Not only did he come down with it, but was alert enough to make a perfect pass to me.”
Williams immediately took off down court, looking up just long enough to realize he had to race into desired shooting range if he were to beat the buzzer. The charismatic junior got within 10 feet of the basket before finding his sweet spot, nailing a jumper to provide the type of dramatic ending befitting this local rivalry.
“We play with heart every game, and we all know how to have fun the right way on and off the court,” said Williams. “But this night, tonight, I really believe we became more than teammates. We were brothers, we were a family on the court tonight.”
Three days after suffering its first district loss of the season—in overtime, no less—Centennial bounces back to improve to 3-1 in District 11-AAA play and 8-2 overall. The Cougars return to the court next Friday, traveling to Dickson County High School in yet another key district matchup.
The heartbreaking home loss for the Rebels snaps a seven-game win streak in falling to 8-3 overall and 2-2 in District 11-AAA ball. Franklin keeps it home next Friday, hosting district rival Independence.