Franklin, Ind. – Despite a career scoring night from Gabe Schmitt, the Franklin College Grizzlies held on for an 84-81 victory over the Transylvania men's basketball team on Wednesday night at the Spurlock Center.
Trailing 50-34 at halftime and staring at an 18-point deficit with under 18 minutes to go in regulation, the Pioneers stormed back to take a late four-point lead before the Grizzlies finished the night on a 9-2 run as they took advantage of three straight turnovers by the Pioneers down the stretch.
Schmitt equaled his career-high with 31 points, knocking down his first five 3-point attempts of the night before finishing 9 of 19 from the field, 5 for 8 from outside, and a perfect 8 for 8 from the free-throw line. 20 of the senior's 31 points came in the second half as his nonstop sharpshooting propelled the gritty comeback.
The Grizzlies improved to 8-4 on the season and 4-1 in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play while the Pioneers dropped to 6-6 overall and 2-3 in conference.
Franklin used a monster offensive first half to build its 16-point halftime lead behind a 76 percent shooting clip from the field while hitting 6 of 8 triples.
Spencer McKinney galvanized the second-half comeback with back-to-back buckets, cutting Franklin's advantage to 54-41 with 16:57 remaining. The two Pioneer seniors on the roster formed a hardworking tandem over the next few minutes as Schmitt added a pair of free throws, followed by a three-point play from McKinney, which was capped off by another three-ball from Schmitt with 15:59 to go, translating to a tenuous 56-49 Franklin lead.
The Grizzlies used a clutch three-pointer for breathing room as the home team pushed its cushion to 68-59 with 10 minutes remaining.
Schmitt and Jefferson led the ensuing 12-2 run as Jefferson's tip-in gave the Pioneers their first lead of the game to top off the run. The two guards continued to score at will as Schmitt sent in two free throws at the 4:10 mark to hand the Pioneers a 79-75 lead.
But Franklin executed down the stretch, forcing the Pioneers into baseline turnovers while earning trips to the charity stripe the other way. Though the Grizzlies missed seven free throw attempts on the night, Franklin hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final four minutes to turn the lead in their favor.
With Franklin leading 84-81 with seconds to go, Schmitt earned one last look at a three-point shot to send the game to overtime, but his left-wing fallaway fell short as time ran out.
Jefferson finished the game with 15 points, a team-high seven rebounds, two assists, and one steal on 7 for 17 shooting from the field. McKinney scored all 14 of his points in the second half, finishing with four rebounds, two assists, and one steal on 5 for 6 shooting from the field.
The Pioneers will try to bounce back on Saturday, January 11 as they host the Defiance College Yellow Jackets in another HCAC contest. Tip-off between the Pioneers and Yellow Jackets is set for 3:00 p.m. at the Beck Center in Lexington to follow the women's contest between the two institutions as part of a Saturday doubleheader.
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