STORY AND PHOTO BY JAKE DONOVAN
It was only fitting that Franklin and East Nashville squared off in the final game of Friday’s action, as their incredible shootout was otherwise going to be impossible to top.
A virtual repeat of their opening season meeting—which Franklin won on a late three-pointer by Reese Glover—saw the visiting Eagles this time snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, prevailing in a 71-70 overtime thriller in the Middle Tennessee Invitational Tournament semifinals Friday evening at Franklin High School.
Timely three-pointers by super sophomore Isaiah Jones (team-high 18 points) helped tie the game in regulation and provide the margin of victory with the final points scored with less than a minute to go in overtime.
Glover led all scorers with 27 points but was unable to connect on a tightly defended three-point attempt as time expired.
“It’s a shot I’ve made plenty of times, including against these guys in the first game of the season,” said Glover of his attempted game-winner. “This one didn’t fall, and credit to East Nashville, they did a great job all night and we always enjoy playing them.”
Unlike the first meeting, the Rebels actually enjoyed a lead for nearly the entire game. The hosting team sprinted out to a 7-2 lead, getting early production from post players Matt Thurman (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Ahsharri Haynesworth (8 points).
East Nashville was able to force a high-tempo pace, but couldn’t find the bottom of the basket in a low-scoring first half by their standards.
“Their system is so consistent,” noted East Nashville head coach Jim Fey of the Eagles’ all too familiar rival. “They do a great job spreading you out with their 1-3-1 defense and after they break you down, their post players get going. If you don’t cover them, they’ll score on you. If you double down on them, their three point shooters light you up.”
The long ball helped propel Franklin to an early lead they seemingly wouldn’t relinquish. Glover, Jordan Bruce (7 points) and Reed Kemp (9 points) all got in on the action, hitting timely threes seemingly every time East Nashville threatened to come back.
Of course, a momentum swing was all but inevitable given this series. The Eagles scored 22 in the 3rd quarter after managing just 25 by halftime. Whatever points weren’t generated by threes came on second-chance scoring.
“If I had one critique of our play tonight, it’s that we got killed on the boards,” Franklin head coach Darrin Joines said. “We got outrebounded by 11 tonight—and that’s including Matt Thurman pulling down 14 rebounds on his own.”
It was a key component in the Eagles’ 4th quarter comeback. Michael Dowlen (16 points) and Jones used a combination of muscle and finesse in igniting an 11-2 rally to give East Nashville its first lead of the game with 5:32 to go in the fourth quarter.
A three-pointer from Royal Hobson extended the Eagles’ lead to four before Glover scored five straight to reclaim the lead for the Rebels.
Kemp and Bruce each managed to make 1-of-2 free throws on separate one-and-ones, the latter giving the Rebels a three-point lead with less than 0:45 in regulation.
Barely 15 seconds later, Jones drilled a deep three pointer to tie the game.
“The most amazing thing about that shot was just two plays earlier, I got on Isaiah for not boxing out on defense,” Fey noted of his rangy sophomore. “It really says a lot about his character. He didn’t just run and hide; he stepped up in a big way.”
So much, that Jones didn’t even recall the earlier lecture by the time the ball hit his hands—or that his team even had a chance to tie.
“I admit, I didn’t even know that shot would send us to overtime; for some reason I thought we were down by four, not three,” confessed Jones afterward. “I told coach on the timeout after my three that I might need to foul; he just told me, ‘Look up at the scoreboard, we tied up!’”
Interestingly, it established the same exact scenario facing the Rebels in their opening season match. With the game tied, they held on for the final possession with Glover dropping a three-pointer to win the game. This time, it was Bruce who had the chance to break the tie and avoid overtime, but his three-point attempt from the right corner bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Both teams struggled early in overtime before Thurman banked in the first points of the bonus session to put Franklin ahead with 3:00 to go. Kemp drove the length of the court on a fast break to extend the Rebels lead to four before freshman Willie Wilson—who scored 12 points all from three-point range in the November meeting—nailed a triple to bring the Eagles within one.
Glover immediately responded with a floating jumper—the last field goal that Frankin would score as they led by three with less than 2:00 remaining in overtime. Dowlen converted on a pair of free throws before Caleb Grimes put Kemp on the line with just over a minute to go. Kemp made the first attempt, but his miss on the second went uncontested and allowing the Eagles one more chance to tie or win.
They ultimately opted for the latter.
Jones somehow found himself open in nearly the same spot from where he sent the game into overtime. As was the case barely five minutes prior, the sophomore once again connected from downtown, giving East Nashville the lead with 0:48 to go.
“After that three I made (in regulation), I thought they’d stay on me the rest of the way through,” noted Jones. “It meant a lot to win the game, not just that way but to beat this team. We at least tied the season (1-1) and won’t face them again.”
Franklin pushed the ball to half-court before calling timeout to discuss what they hoped would be the game-winning play. Both teams drew up strategies for the moment, although there was little mystery as to who would wind up with the ball with the game on the line.
“Here’s the thing about (Glover) having the ball in the end,” noted Joines, simply emphasizing any team’s strategy of getting the ball to its star player with the game on the line. “If you don’t give him the ball and we don’t score, you spend the rest of the time thinking “Man, that looked like a mistake.” Not that Reese couldn’t find somebody; if someone was open, he’ll find him.”
Glover attempted just that as East Nashville’s designed defense left him scrambling. The senior sharpshooter managed to free himself long enough to fire off a three but the shot fell short as the buzzer sounded.
With the win, East Nashville will now face district rival Stratford in Saturday’s championship matchup—six days before facing them once the regular season resumes on Jan. 4.
“We knew there’d be a good chance we’d see Stratford in the finals the moment we saw the brackets,” Fey said. “I was glad they beat Cane Ridge, and of course that we won here. If we are going to have to face each other just before playing each other again on Friday, we wanted it to be for the championships. We didn’t want it to be in some consolation game without anything really at stake.”
Instead, it’s the hosting Rebels who find themselves in a game to determine 3rd place in this year’s tournament. They will face Cane Ridge on Saturday, in the final game preceding the girls and boys championships (7:00pm and 8:30pm, respectively).
“We wanted to make it to the finals, of course that was every team’s goal,” Joines stated. “But we’re getting a really strong squad in Cane Ridge to end the tournament, and the ultimate goal was to come out a better team heading into the second half of the season.”