Zach De La Cruz and Brock Kloeppel both scored 20 points, leading Franklin to a 78-71 Mountain Six Conference men’s basketball victory over Smoky Mountain on Feb. 6 at Franklin to conclude the regular season.
De La Cruz provided the outside shooting with Kloeppel controlling the inside for the Panthers. Jay Bueck added 16 points.
Tyler Waliezer had 18 points for the Mustangs (11-11, 4-6), who finished fourth in the MSC. Tommy Brennan and Cody Lominac both scored 10.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Coach Adam Phillips said. “Our kids played really hard. Franklin jumped on us, and we battled back to take the lead in the first half. They made a run in the third quarter. We cut it to four but couldn’t get closer. I was proud of our effort. We’ve played a tough schedule, and I think it prepares us for the conference tournament.”
Franklin ran off 11 straight points, including four by Kloeppel, to lead 16-6 after Tye Chastain’s basket with 3:01 left in the first quarter.
De La Cruz’s three-pointer in the closing seconds gave the Panthers a 23-12 advantage entering the second period.
The Mustangs opened the second quarter with 15 consecutive points, including five by Coffey, to lead 27-23 on Lominac’s layup with 3:10 on the clock.
Kloeppel hit one of two free throws with 1.2 seconds to play, giving Franklin a 32-31 halftime edge.
Andrew Terrell’s three-pointer put the Panthers ahead to stay, 37-34, with 6:41 left in the third stanza.
That started a 9-2 run, capped by Kloeppel’s driving layup, for a 43-36 margin with 4:36 on the clock.
The lead was 51-44 going into the fourth quarter.
De La Cruz scored eight straight points, including a pair of treys, for a 64-52 lead at the 4:52 mark.
The game’s biggest lead was 70-57 when Kloeppel scored with 2:32 on the clock.
Waliezer made seven field goals and was four of four from the line. Lominac hit three field goals, including a trey, and three foul shots. Brennan made two field goals, including a three-pointer, and five free throws.
Coffey added eight points, Kosnik and Cole Lamb both finished with six, Andrew Cobaugh and Nate Crowe scored five apiece, and Alexis Espinosa had three.
The Mustang JVs lost for just the second time and finished the regular season 18-2 as Franklin hit two late free throws to win 51-50. The Panthers led at quarter breaks by scores of 16-11, 32-25 and 42-34.
SM’s Mitch Wike scored 13 points, and Dawson Karup had 10.
“A lot of that is on me,” Coach Jeremy Cauley said. “We shot ourselves in the foot too many times. I got too emotional early on. Franklin played very well and got after it with a lot of energy.”