WARRREN, Pa.= Twice Warren and Franklin have come down to the final seconds, and for the second time this season, the Dragons came up just short.
Cole Buckley’s 3-pointer as time expired lifted Franklin (14-4 overall, 6-0 Region 6) to a 61-58 win over Warren in a game in which neither team led by more than five points.
“I wasn’t really expecting to get the shot, I’m not usually the guy that gets that shot,” Buckley said during the Cole Orthodontic Associates postgame interview. “I pump-faked, I had time and it felt good coming out of the hand, so I just had to do what I had to do.”
In the two teams’ first meeting on Jan. 16, it was Franklin’s Jalen Wood hitting a jumper with five seconds to play to lift the Knights to a 56-54 win.
“They play hard, they play fast,” Buckley said of the Dragons. “We both score and they hit shots. They hit a lot of shots today. We struggled to shoot. Every time we play it’s a battle. They have guys that can bang around in the paint. We’re a little small sometimes. We just got Damon (Curry) coming back. We just got Gavin (Eakin) coming back. There’s a little rust, but it’s just a battle every single time. We both want to win really bad.”
Buckley, who had a quiet night with just six points until late in the fourth quarter, had a flurry in the final 26 seconds.
Warren’s Tommy Nyquist made a pair of free throws to put the Dragons (13-4 overall, 3-3 Region 6) up 58-55 with 34.6 seconds remaining.
Buckley was fouled making a 2-point shot with 26 seconds to go and, after a Warren timeout, knocked down the foul shot to tie the game at 58.
Warren came down the court and Nyquist penetrated and dished to Chase Sitler’s who’s jumper was blocked by Demarco Payne, who alertly called timeout after grabbing the rebounds.
The clock showed 0.8 seconds, with the officials resetting it to 1.2 during the timeout, setting the stage for Buckley’s shot about three feet past the 3-point line in front of the outstretched arm of Warren’s Brady Berdine.
“Excitement and relief,” Buckley said. “Warren is a tough opponent. It’s hard to win here.”
Leading 48-46, Warren attempted to hold for the last shot of the third quarter. The Dragons took a shot with enough time left, however, to allow Franklin to get a rebound and Wood to knock down a transition 3-pointer as time expired to make it 49-48 Franklin going to the fourth.
Franklin led by as many as four, 53-49 in the fourth quarter after a Wood 3 with 5:45 to play.
Warren responded with a 9-2 run, with a pair of free throws from Braylon Barnes and a bucket from Brady Berdine tying the game at 53 with 3:45 to go.
Konnor Hoffman was fouled and made 1-of-2 from the line to give Warren a 54-53 lead with 1:45 to play, and after a Wood 3-pointer was no good, Barnes made a transition layup with 1:29 to go to put Warren up three.
Dreyden Payne’s layup got Franklin within one, 56-55, before the final moments of the game.
Demarco Payne was the offensive catalyst for Franklin, pouring in 21 points on six 3’s, four of which game in the first half. Buckley finished with 12 points and Wood and Dreyden Payne eight each.
As Buckley alluded to, Curry was making a return from a multi-week absence due to injury and finished with seven points.
Berdine led Warren with 21 points, while Sitler had 11, Barnes 10 and Nyquist nine. The Dragons were without Logan Crissey and his 8.9 points per game due to injury.
“A region title is always a standard for us,” Buckley said. “We’ve won 30 games in a row (in region) and we just keep it rolling, rolling, rolling. This was like a playoff game. Warren’s going to make a deep run in 4A, we’re hopefully going to make a deep run in 3A. It just prepares us whenever we play teams that throw punches at us that we can punch right back and stay in the game and win the game.”