FRANKLIN, Ind. – Playing in front of their home crowd for the final time this season, the Franklin College men's basketball team sent the Grizzly faithful home happy on Saturday (Feb. 16) with a 72-67 win over Bluffton to close out the regular season.
Franklin (11-14, 9-9 HCAC) shot a season-best 57.4 percent (31-for-54) from the field and had four players finish the afternoon in double figures. Defensively, the Grizzlies held the efficient Bluffton (17-8, 11-7 HCAC) to 43.9 percent (29-for-66) from the floor and under 30 percent from three to pick up a 72-67 victory.
Now winners of seven of their last eight games, the Grizzlies turn their attention to the 2019 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) Tournament, set to begin next week.
"We've been able to shoot the ball well during this stretch and we distributed the ball great today," Head coach Kerry Prather said. "We were able to get a lead and hold the lead because we were able to get stops and grab big rebounds. You always want to be the team playing best when the league tournament tips off and right now we are playing our best. We've got our eye on three wins next week."
The two sides engaged in a defensive battle at the outset before Bluffton jumped out to their largest lead of the night at 19-14 with just under eight minutes to go in the opening half. The two sides combined for a pair of ties and six lead changes in the opening 20 minutes with Franklin taking a 26-25 lead into the intermission. Franklin's defense keyed their first half performance, holding Bluffton to under 40 percent from the floor and 1-for-8 from three.
Franklin maintained a one-possession lead throughout the early part of the second half before gaining some much-needed separation near the midway point of the period. The Grizzlies used a 10-2 run to take their largest lead of the game at 47-37 with 11:45 to play. But the Beavers wouldn't go away quietly, clawing back to within a point at 65-64 with 1:42 to go in the contest.
But the Grizzlies refused to allow the lead to slip away and Matt Krause would deliver the dagger with 29 seconds left, knocking down a long three to make it a 70-64 game. It capped a phenomenal day for the freshman forward, as he finished with a game-high 22 points and added 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the year.
Sophomore Payton Mills hauled in his third double-double of the year with 12 points and 10 boards. Borden Kennedy added 16 points and six assists and Kale Morris chipped in with 13 points, all coming in the second half.
Rebounds were 31-30 in Franklin's favor and the Grizzlies finished with a 38-34 edge on points in the paint. Mills added three blocks during the game with Krause swatting a pair of shots.
Franklin will have six days off to prepare for the opening round of the HCAC Tournament, which gets underway next Friday (Feb. 22) night in Hanover, Ind. Opposing the Grizzlies will be the tournament's third seed, the Rose-Hulman Fightin' Engineers. Tip-off from Hanover is set for approximately 8:00 p.m.