D1 Central: St. John's 55, Franklin 48

WORCESTER, Mass. -– St. John’s was a missed lay-up away from winning the Central Mass. Division 1 title last year. After losing just one starter from last year’s team that fell to Milford at WPI’s Harrington Auditorium, the Pioneers made sure to leave nothing to chance this time around.

Nearly one year after Pioneers’ guard Adham Floyd came up short on that lay-up in the closing seconds against Milford, it was Floyd who carried the St. John’s offense in the sophomore star’s second straight trip to WPI. Floyd scored 19 points against Franklin (18-7) on Saturday night to give St. John’s (21-4) the Central Mass. Division 1 crown, 55-48.

The Pioneers jumped out to a quick 18-5 lead in the opening minutes. Playing before a floor-shaking, standing room only crowd, St. John’s helped build the opening lead thanks to their energy and hot shooting early on.

“I think we caught them a little bit not ready to play here and our kids came out of the gates flying," St. John's coach Bob Foley said. "You might think after the St. Peter-Marian game that we might be a little step back, but these kids came out of the gates flying -– I’m just so proud of them."

Foley place a big defensive effort on Franklin senior Chris Rodgers, who scored 29 points in the semifinal game against WPI. Rodgers nailed two threes in the first half and finished with 10 points at halftime, but the senior captain was held scoreless after halftime -– thanks both to the Pioneers’ defensive effort as well as Rodgers’ foul trouble.

“I don’t have any great individual player so I have to find a way to stop a kid like him. So I threw a lot of guys at him and we played a 2-3 zone to contain him too. We just didn’t want him getting started because he’s one heck of a player,” Foley said of Rodgers. “Defensively I thought we did a great job, they’ve got so many weapons out there. We had to keep switching back and forth between a zone and a man to man depending on who they had in there and who we had in there.”

Marcus Giese had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Franklin, who played much of the second and third quarters with Rodgers on the bench. Giese his six of his seven shot attempts, but the other four Franklin starters were just 8-for-29 from the floor.

“[Rodgers] got in foul trouble and he was out a lot, during that time we started getting the ball to Marcus," Franklin coach Dean O'Connor said. "He wasn’t able to get back into a rhythm, and Jones did a good job on him defensively. He’s a quick kid and he did a good job on him. Chris can usually hit shots near the basket, but with their size, you’re running into some big guys in there."

The Central Mass. championship is the Pioneers’ third in the last four years. Foley praised his senior forwards after the game: Alex Fisher, Charlie Murray, and T.J. Kelley. Fisher and Murray didn’t need to do much scoring for the Pioneers, but they teamed up to pull down 17 of St. Johns’ 27 rebounds. Kelley, who nailed three 3-pointers, finished with 13 points.

“Those are our seniors, the three inside guys. The two guards have been there before, this is Davon’s third year as a starter and Adham’s second year," Foley said. "We feel we’re very experienced, and we feel like when we come here we love playing at WPI. It seems to bring out the best in us, the kids just love playing here, it’s a great atmosphere."

With the win, the Pioneers will move on to the Division 1 state semifinal, where they’ll take on Western Mass. champion Putnam. At 23-0, the Beavers have been the top ranked team in the boys hoops top 25 poll from the beginning of the season until now. St. John’s will be looking to make its first trip to the DCU Center since falling to St. John’s Prep in the state final in 2011.

“We deserve this,” said Floyd. “We fought hard at the beginning of the season and it’s finally paying off. We’re hungry.”