By CHIP CIRILLO | Photos by STEVE WHEELER
Franklin was hoping to end a 29-year wait, but Mt. Juliet had waited even longer.
The Golden Bears earned their first state tournament appearance in school history with a 58-46 win over the Rebels in a Class AAA sectional in front of a capacity crowd at Franklin on Monday night.
The Rebels’ last state tournament appearance came in 1989 when Vanderbilt signee Kevin Anglin led them to the Class AAA title.
“Really, as a coach I’ve always said if you give your best effort and it’s not good enough, you can live with it,” Franklin coach Darrin Joines said. “I’ll sleep well tonight because we gave great effort. And what a great year for us.”
Reese Glover led the Rebels (28-6) with 16 points and senior Evan Sigler added 15, all on five 3-pointers.
“Even though it was a loss, it’s something that I’ll never forget,” Sigler said of the electric atmosphere. “I mean, that’s what high school basketball is all about. Two really good teams going at it, two great fan bases. That was rocking.”
Gavin Wilson led Mt. Juliet (27-7) with 18 points, all on six 3-pointers. Isaac Stephens, a 6-foot-7 senior, added 17 points.
“Our bigs played really well and got the guards a lot of open shots tonight,” Wilson said.
It’s been a long journey for Stephens, who broke his leg as a sophomore and his ankle in the summer.
“We knew they weren’t as big as us, so we tried to get the ball inside as much as we could,” Stephens said.
The state tournament begins next week in Murfreesboro, giving the Golden Bears time to enjoy their accomplishment.
“It’s a 10-day celebration to me,” Mt. Juliet coach Troy Allen said. “We’re going to go practice at colleges, we’re going to go have dinners. We’re going to enjoy this.”
Allen lost four previous sectionals with the Golden Bears, finishing one win short of the state tournament. His last three seasons ended in road sectionals.
“Our theme this week was it’s time to kick the door down,” Allen said. “We kicked it down.”
Guard Jordan Lockridge added 10 points for the Golden Bears, who made an 11-0 run to take a four-point lead after the first quarter.
The game was tied at 17 midway through the second quarter, but Mt. Juliet rallied to take a 25-20 halftime lead and it led the rest of the way.
Franklin cut the gap to 48-41 late in the fourth quarter, but Mt. Juliet held on.
“With them, one of the big things was how physical they were,” Joines said. “Not only physical inside, I think we were outrebounded by 10, but also physical just making a pass on the perimeter. I thought that was the big difference in the game: their physicality.”
Mt. Juliet made 17 turnovers and Franklin only had six.
“Those are winning stats for us typically, but they just made it so hard for us to get a shot,” Joines said. “I mean, every pass was contested.”
The Golden Bears’ inside-out attack clicked all night.
“Obviously, we had to try to cover the big guys inside and then by doing that we maybe had to give up a little bit on the perimeter,” Joines said. “So, it was like pick your poison.”
Few teams run a 1-3-1 zone defense like Franklin, but Allen was ready for it because he saw it many times when Joines coached at Beech.
“They want you to play sideways and not downhill, and you can get some open shots,” Allen said. “But we don’t want to take the shots they want us to take. We want to get paint touches or we want to get reversals and skips, and I thought for the most part we did a great job.”
Mt. Juliet turned the ball over on its first five possessions before settling down for the rest of the first half.
Allen was glad to see his big man, Stephens, dominate inside after everything he’s been through.
“You don’t want to have favorites, but he’s one of my favorite people that I’ve ever been around,” Allen said. “He’s soft-spoken, he doesn’t cause any problems and he’s a good student and a great kid. I think he’s one of the best post players in the Midstate, for sure.”
Mt. Juliet’s J.C. Crawford and Lockridge held Glover to a 6 of 18 shooting night, including an uncustomary 1 of 9 from 3-point range.
“(Glover) is one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen since I’ve been coaching,” Allen said. “I thought they did an amazing job because he’s relentless.”
Glover fought back tears when talking about the departure of the Rebels’ three seniors.
“I’m just really going to miss our seniors: Evan, Jack (Patton) and Avery (Jones),” Glover said. “(Mt. Juliet) is a great team. They can do it all. They have two bigs that are really good on the boards. We had trouble boxing them out just because we’re smaller. They had great guards, as well, and they’re just a complete team.”
Mt. Juliet put a lot of pressure on Glover on the perimeter, so he drove to the hoop more than normal.
“Their on-ball defense is incredible,” Glover said. “So is their off-ball. You have to really cut and screen really well to get open against them. Credit to them for playing great defense.”
Both Mt. Juliet teams are headed to state. The Lady Golden Bears beat Brentwood in Saturday’s sectional to punch their tickets.