STORY BY JAKE DONOVAN | PHOTOS BY DEB SCALLY
Every time Franklin needed a basket, someone different managed to step up.
Whether it was the overall preparation in facing a well-coached team in Ravenwood, or inspiration from the return of gritty role player Finlay Long, the hosting Rebels played inspiring ball for all 32 minutes in a 71-57 home win Friday evening.
Reese Glover—limited to single digits through swarming defensive strategies in his past few games—exploded for a game-high 29 points on the night.
“We talked about getting Reese a little freer tonight,” revealed Joines, who has seen the middle Tennessee Top-10 scorer play the role of distributor in recent games. “And it wasn’t that they played him super loose or anything. But our movement was so good, it makes it hard to stay in front of him.”
The senior guard and Missouri Western commit opened the game with a three-pointer and managed to hit one clutch shot after another until Ravenwood was finally out of comebacks.
“It felt really good to see the basket again,” admitted Glover in a rare night of an opposing defense playing him straight up. “It’s always good to make shots. We thought maybe they would throw some junk defense at us, but they didn’t and we took what we got.”
Still, it took a lot more than settling for what Ravenwood offered to prevail in a game that played out much closer than the final score indicated. Franklin jumped to an early lead, much to the delight of the festive crowd decked out in its luau best in line with the evening’s Hawaii theme.
The visiting Raptors remained calm under pressure, going on a 6-0 run towards the end of the first quarter before a buzzer-beating layup by senior Ahsharri Haynesworth (14 points on a perfect 7/7 from the floor) gave the Rebels a one point lead after the opening quarter.
In this rivalry, no lead is ever safe.
“There’s no team that’s more well-versed in what their coach expects of them than that team,” Joines said in admiration of Whitlock’s always game-time ready Raptors. “If that’s not known, it’s a shame. They’re a nightmare to play and they have been for a long time.
“Coach Whitlock and I have faced each other many times, and his teams know exactly what he wants them to do.”
Ravenwood came out firing at the start of the second, with junior guard Rex Gainer (27 points, all from three on 9/11 shooting behind the arc) bookending a Glover basket with a pair of triples to give the Raptors a 17-14 lead. This time, it was Franklin’s turn to run, peeling off 10 straight to go up 24-17 and never again trail on the night.
Timely baskets by Reed Kemp (6 of his 8 points in the 2nd quarter) and Glover kept Franklin comfortably ahead going into halftime, but it was the inspiring and long-awaited return of senior Finlay Long that perhaps provided the biggest spark.
“The ultimately Finlay, taking a charge very quickly,” Joines said in admiration of the scrappy senior, who was forced to ride the injured list all season prior to Friday’s triumphant return. “Then blocking a skip shot – he’s covering corner to corner.
“He goes all the way down the court and blocks a three. He’s not supposed to be able to do that. It’s so neat to have him back.”
The sentiment is shared among Long’s peers.
“Finlay is such a great team player, he comes in and does all of the dirty work,” Glover said. “It felt so good to have him back.”
Most of Long’s accomplishments on the court normally go well beyond the box score. He didn’t manage to score—or even attempt to—but picked up a rebound and a blocked shot, to go along with two well-earned fouls.
Meanwhile, Ravenwood had a different kind of welcome back in mind. A productive 3rd quarter saw the Raptors at one point shrink a 12-point deficit down to seven midway through the session, but unable to fare any better than keeping pace with Franklin the rest of the way through.
Jacob McGraw got in a lay-up just before the buzzer to put the Rebels ahead by nine after three quarters of play, then connecting on a three to start the 4th quarter. A quick two by senior forward Houston Chapman (12 points, 4 rebounds) and a pair of threes by the red-hot Gainer had Ravenwood back within eight, only for a Glover three coming out of a Ravenwood time-out all but finally putting the game out of reach.
“Another big key, our defense was as good as our offense tonight,” Joines said. “We only turned the ball over 12 times tonight. They shot 52% which is remarkable but they also turned the ball over more than 20 times.”
For Franklin, it was the sixth-straight win in as many games in 2019 after having suffered back-to-back losses in closing out the year end Middle Tennnesse Invitational tournament last December. In beating Ravenwood, they improve to a District 11-AAA best 9-1 on the season, with Friday’s win coming on the heels of an emotional 53-51 road victory over Brentwood on Tuesday.
“Good teams don’t have letdowns from big wins,” Joines said of his team’s preparation heading into Friday. “You have to be ready to play. Maybe earlier in the year, you might (take it for granted) but not this late in the year. Besides, we have so much respect for that team there was no chance of that.”
Franklin (16-5/9-1 D11-AAA) will play four of their next five games on the road over the next three weeks. The first is a visit to Page High School, where they will face a Patriots team looking to avenge a 69-37 humbling on Franklin’s home court in December.
Ravenwood (7-10/4-6 D11-AAA) also hits the road for its next adventure, traveling to Dickson County on Tuesday. The Raptors dropped a 44-43 heartbreaker to the visiting Cougars last December at home.