STORY BY JAKE DONOVAN | PHOTOS BY DEB SCALLY
For as long as he’s been employed at Franklin High School, head coach Darrin Joines has always boasted that his Franklin Rebels have never truly played an away game.
The comment was a testament to the Rebel Nation legion of fans who arrive in full force just as much on the road as they do for any given home game. The Rebels’ boys basketball squad’s response to that level of support was to give them a regional finals performance nobody would ever forget.
A 55-point second half propelled the Rebels to its second-straight Region 6-AAA championship, the latest coming on their opponent’s home turf in a 78-51 win over Brentwood on Thursday evening at Brentwood High School.
Senior guard and tournament MVP Reese Glover torched the Bruins for 29 points on the night, even more impressive considering he scored just two points in the first 18 minutes of play. Senior post Ahsharri Haynesworth added 19 points and provided a steady presence throughout the game.
“With us, you have to pick your poison with who you’re gonna guard because we can score,” Joines pointed out afterward, emphasizing a complete team effort. “We scored 55 points in the second half against a pretty stingy defense.”
It’s a defense that Franklin has found a way to solve four times in as many games this season, including a 74-65 win in the District 11-AAA tournament finals just 9 days ago.
However, both teams initially struggled to score at the start of Thursday’s regional finals. A quick juke by Franklin’s Matt Thurman on WillCo Player of the Year finalist Ben Mills down low opened up the offensive flow both ways. The two teams traded baskets on consecutive possessions before a 7-0 run by Franklin put the visiting top-seed up 12-5.
The Bruins made the most of a mid-quarter timeout, with Cole Massey stroking a three pointer to kick off seven unanswered for the home team and knotting up at 12-12 after one.
Franklin went straight to its top two scorers early in the second, with Haynesworth hitting a layup to reclaim the lead for the Rebels. Glover went coast-to-coast on the ensuing possession, driving senior point guard Preston Moore (7 points, 6 assists, 2 blocks) to the hoop before hitting the floater.
Another three by Massey (11 points, 3 three-pointers, All-Tournament team) ignited a 11-2 run to put Brentwood up by five, its largest lead of the night—as well as its last.
Jordan Bruce buried a triple out of a Franklin timeout, cutting the deficit to two. The Rebels’ first-half shooting woes never more evident than an attempted Glover layup was stuffed by John Windley (10 points). A similar fate awaited sophomore guard Reed Kemp (10 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals), who tied the game with a pair of free throws, but whose go-ahead attempted just before the buzzer was buried by Mills (8 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) to leave the game tied 23-23 at the half.
Hoping to avoid remaining caught up in Brentwood’s grind-‘em out defensive style of play, Franklin regrouped in the locker room to ensure a momentum-shifting second half.
“We talked about our offense, forcing our shots, mostly me,” admitted Glover. We can score at will whenever we want to. But it’s about having confidence, my teammates having confidence in me. I just tried to shoot the ball as best as I could to get this win.”
The shooting clinic that followed will likely still be discussed long after the district’s top scorer moves on to college ball at Missouri Western.
Brentwood did its best to keep pace with Franklin once the 3rd quarter began, going basket for basket with its longtime rival until a Hayneworth floater put the Rebels ahead 30-28 for the final lead change of the night. Back to back baskets by Haynesworth and Glover prompted a Brentwood timeout, once again proving effective as Harry Lackey converted a three-point play to cut the lead to three.
It would never get any closer.
Glover—as he’s done so many times in an incredible high school career closing in on 2,500 points—became a sight to behold once he finally found his stroke. A three from the Missouri Western commit sparked a 14-5 run to close out the quarter with Franklin ahead 48-36 and just eight minutes away from a second straight regional title.
“One of my mentors once told me, scoring is like a bottle of olives, you get that first one out and it just starts flowing,” Joines explained. “The first half just felt like we couldn’t get that first one out. Once we started going…”
It just kept going, with the final act sending the FHS Rebellion (Franklin’s student section) into a decibel-busting frenzy—and Franklin one home win away from a trip to the state tournament.
“Give Franklin credit,” Brentwood head coach Greg Shirley said afterward. “I thought we had a lot of opportunities in the first half that we didn’t take advantage of. We had them on the backs of their heels a little bit and they kind of weathered the storm, hit a couple of shots and they’re explosive. They came out in the second half, got hot and that was it.”
A deep three from Glover opened up the fourth, one of seven consecutive triples between he and Haynesworth, who stepped out of the low post enough to go 3/5 from behind the arc. A three-pointer by Glover from well-beyond NBA range made the Rebels feel right at home, with Haynesworth’s final three putting Franklin ahead 60-38.
Brentwood refused to roll over, rattling off seven points inside of 90 seconds, but Glover wasn’t done scoring. The final of his seven threes on the night came from 30’ out, prompting a chant of “MVP” from the visiting Franklin crowd.
“I just love our Franklin community,” noted Glover, who fought back tears of joy in admiration of his hometown and school peers. “It just feels really good to know that I have people who have my back. I just love our Franklin community a lot.”
Franklin has certainly loved all that the Glover family has contributed to the program through the years. The youngest of the three brothers who’ve played ball at Franklin has certainly added plenty to his family’s honor. He now has a chance to accomplish something nobody else in his family has accomplished, nor any other Franklin team since 1989: win a state championship.
The next step on the road to Murfreesboro comes Monday, with the Rebels (27-6) hosting a Class AAA Sectionals game versus Gallatin, 2019’s Cinderella team who made it to this point following a massive upset of Region 5-AAA top seed Mt. Juliet in Tuesday’s semifinals.
Hoping to join them is Brentwood (25-8), who travels to Hendersonville on Monday for their sectionals game with Region 5-AAA champion Station Camp.
“Three years before I came, Coach King did a great job and led Brentwood to the state tournament three times, the first three years in Brentwood’s history,” pointed out Shirley. “Two years ago, we made a state run and Harry was a freshman on that team.
“For us to be (one win away from) the state tournament five of the last seven years is a testament to this team.”
It’s equally telling of a Franklin squad who—just two seasons after going 15-11 in Coach Joines’ first year with the program—now has back-to-back regional titles and have somehow improved upon last season’s star-studded squad.
“Last year, we had a bitter taste in our mouths getting beat (in sub-state),” noted Joines. “But I was proud of that team, just as I am proud of this team. I tell you, it’s tough to go out there, win the district regular season, win the district tournament, win the regional tournament and with a big X on our back.”
And now with another trophy for all of Franklin to share.