BEES BREAK THROUGH: Balanced Academy blasts Franklin 69-47 for elusive Round 3 win; New Waverly next
MOVING FORWARD: Academy senior forward Tanner Rambeau scored 11 of his 15 points after halftime Saturday afternoon to help the 16th-ranked Bumblebees defeat No. 17 Franklin 69-47 in a Class 3A Region III quarterfinal at Lorena High School. Senior Jerry Cephus and junior Darion Franklin scored 17 points apiece and senior Jaylin McWilliams contributed 13 for Academy (20-7), which advanced to a regional semifinal against No. 7 New Waverly (26-1) at 6 p.m. next Friday at Madisonville High School. The Bees are in the playoffs' fourth round for the first time since 2002, when they won the 2A state championship. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
LORENA – Because Academy's boys basketball team had been eliminated in the Class 3A Region III quarterfinals in both of the previous two seasons, the Bumblebees had a proverbial monkey on their backs as they surged into the third round of the state playoffs for the third straight year.
To witness the celebratory reaction of Academy's players and fans late Saturday afternoon, that monkey might as well have been a 900-pound gorilla. The combination of joy, relief and sense of achievement that the Bees felt after finally overcoming that Round 3 hurdle was obvious to all in attendance.
Darion Franklin and Jaylin McWilliams dominated the action in the first two quarters as 16th-ranked Academy built a 15-point halftime lead against No. 17 Franklin, then Jerry Cephus' torrid shooting and Tanner Rambeau's interior strength provided the second-half firepower to spark the Bees to a 69-47 regional quarterfinal victory over the Lions in front of a boisterous crowd at Lorena High School.
Not being able to get past the third round? Academy (20-7), having advanced to the fourth round for the first time since it captured the 2A state championship in 2002, is very glad that's now a thing of the past.
“It's the best feeling ever,” said Rambeau, the senior forward and four-year starter who scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half as the Bees extended their winning streak to 13 games. “Every time I've picked up a basketball has led up to this game. So to win today, it's great. Every game from now on is going to be the most important game that I've ever played.”
Junior point guard Franklin, who scored 13 of his 17 points before halftime, was just as thrilled to help Academy break through into a Region III semifinal at 6 p.m. next Friday against No. 7 New Waverly (26-1), whose Bulldogs beat No. 21 Hitchcock 71-56 later Saturday for their 26th straight win.
Academy-New Waverly will be the first of two Region III semifinals at Madisonville High School. No. 14 Lorena (23-4) and No. 11 Winnie East Chambers (26-0) will play at 8 p.m. Friday, and the two winners will clash at 1 p.m. Saturday at Madisonville for a berth in the state semifinals.
“It feels great. You feel like a new man after. I have no words for it,” said Franklin, who tied senior shooting guard Cephus for the team lead with 17 points.
Franklin said the pregame speech of fifth-year head coach James Holt centered on the idea that Academy's players have worked too long and too hard on their games – both individually and as a team – to see a third consecutive season end in the regional quarterfinals.
“When Coach came into the locker room and said, 'This is the time to pay it off,' it was the time,” said Franklin, who made three of the Bees' nine 3-point baskets despite his first-half foul trouble and helped Academy's tenacious defense collect 15 first-half turnovers by the Lions. “We've been looking forward to this Round 3 for a long time."
LONG-RANGE WEAPON: Academy junior guard Darion Franklin (2) releases a 3-point shot over oncoming Franklin defender Hayden Helton during the first quarter of the 16th-ranked Bumblebees' 69-47 win against the No. 17 Lions in a Class 3A Region III quarterfinal Saturday at Lorena. Looking on for Academy are senior Kollin Mraz (1), senior forward Tanner Rambeau (25) and senior guard Jerry Cephus. Franklin made three 3-pointers, scored 13 in the first half and matched Cephus with a team-leading 17 points overall. The victory sent Academy into the fourth round of the playoffs against No. 7 New Waverly after the Bees lost Region III quarterfinals to Crockett in each of the previous two seasons. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Crockett broke the hearts of Academy's 2018-19 and 2019-20 teams by winning a pair of intense battles in the Region III quarterfinals, both at College Station A&M Consolidated. Current seniors Cephus, McWilliams, Rambeau and guard Kollin Mraz played for both of those Bees squads, who won District 19-3A championships and recorded a combined 55 victories.
So for Holt was watch this highly seasoned Academy group apply all of its hard-earned experience and storm past undefeated 20-3A champion Franklin (18-2) – which hadn't lost since Dec. 29 – made him a very proud coach.
“I mean, as proud as you can be,” Holt said after the Bees' seventh playoff win in three seasons. “These guys have put in a ton of work. I'm talking from second grade, third grade and all the stuff, all the hours you spend in the gym working on your game, practices, using The Gun at night . . . all those hours prepare you for moments like this. And it's important to you. If you don't put in the time and you don't put in the work, it's really not that important. So when you get into that situation, it's not as big of a deal as it is to somebody else who puts in that work.
“These guys have worked a ton and they've had people work with them. (Former Academy head coach) Alex Remschel worked with this group a ton and (former Academy ISD administrator) Joe Craig worked with them, so they've had good coaches.”
The trio of Cephus, Franklin and Rambeau outscored the Lions 49-47, and McWilliams gave Academy four players with 13-plus points. McWilliams, 19-3A Most Valuable Player last season, produced a nine-point first quarter to help stake the Bees to a 23-9 lead and recorded 11 of his 13 points in the first half as they carried a 39-24 advantage into the halftime break.
Academy and Franklin played each other a combined five times during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. The Bees won three of those games, but the only loss in their last 40 district games came against the Lions in February 2019. And in December 2019, Franklin rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit to edge Academy 58-57 in an early-season tournament before the Bees won both 19-3A duels.
However, head coach Jake Russ and Franklin simply had no answers for Academy's all-around strength in the two programs' lone matchup this season.
The turnover-plagued Lions never led, and Franklin's 3-pointer 18 seconds into the game put his Bees ahead to stay. Academy quickly turned a 9-6 lead into a 23-9 advantage by the end of the first quarter, and its lead never was cut to less than 12 points the rest of the way.
“I was frustrated because we didn't really do what we were taught to do throughout the first half, and it put us behind and then we had to do some things we hadn't done all year,” said Russ, who got 17 points from Malcom Murphy and 14 from fellow junior guard Darren Daugherty but no more than five from anyone else. “We kind of broke down and it was frustrating, but all credit goes to Academy. Coach Holt is a great guy and a great coach. I love him to death.
“It was a great game with a great team. They came out and hit (four) 3s in the first quarter. Credit goes to them, but I was just frustrated with my guys for the little things we weren't doing. I told them before the game, 'This is my third regional quarterfinal as a coach, and you have to do the little things. If you don't, you're going to get broken down.' This is the first time these guys have been here. We're really young and we should be back next year, so I told them at the end, 'We've got to learn from this.'”
Academy has allowed 47 points or fewer in all three playoff wins, which have come by an average of 23.7 points. The Bees haven't lost since Jan. 5, a 77-74 overtime defeat against 4A state-ranked and regional quarterfinalist Waco La Vega.
The last time Academy advanced this deep into the boys basketball playoffs was 2002, when the Remschel-coached Bees captured the 2A state title. Current Academy athletic director Jared Hunt played for that squad.
“It's exciting,” Franklin said. “We're trying to match Coach Hunt's team that won state.”
THAT WINNING FEELING: Academy players, coaches and fans celebrate after the Bumblebees' 69-47 win over Franklin in a Class 3A Region III quarterfinal playoff game Saturday afternoon at Lorena High School. Riding a 13-game winning streak, coach James Holt's 16th-ranked Academy squad (20-7) will challenge No. 7 New Waverly (26-1) – winner of 26 in a row – in a regional semifinal at 6 p.m. next Friday at Madisonville High School. (Video by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
The Lions have played without star junior guard and stellar outside shooter Marcus Wade for the last month after he suffered a dislocated kneecap, according to Russ. Having competed against Wade, the Bees' Franklin said his absence created a major void for the Lions.
“Not having him, that's like not having LeBron James or Anthony Davis,” Franklin said. “He's their guy and always has been.”
Darion Franklin made two 3-pointers in the game's first 2 minutes, then McWilliams made a spinning shot in the lane and junior reserve guard Trae Rambeau – who entered after Mraz was assessed his second foul with only 3:51 gone – sank a left-wing 3 to give Academy a 12-6 lead midway through the first period.
Franklin's pass set up a bucket by McWilliams, who then added a driving layup before Franklin knifed through the defense after a steal and used a nifty step-through move for a layin that made it 18-7, prompting a Lions timeout at the 1:44 mark as a pumped-up Franklin charged toward Academy's huddle.
“I think they kind of feed off of each other. They both see the game before other people see it,” Holt said about Franklin and McWilliams. “They're a step ahead. They see the play going and so they're able to anticipate and get steals. They're really good at, 'I see the guy going to get the steal; now I'm breaking to get the pass ahead and get a layup.'”
A left-handed layup by freshman guard Devyn Hidrogo briefly paused the Bees' momentum, but McWilliams caught a Franklin pass and nailed an open 3 from the left corner. Franklin then provided perhaps the game's defining highlight when he led the fast break and fired a no-look pass to the sprinting Cephus for an easy layup with 4.5 seconds left, propelling Academy to a 23-9 lead after the first quarter as its bench and fans erupted.
Said Franklin about what was available to the Bees strategically against the Lions, who were hurt by seven turnovers in the first quarter and eight giveaways in the second: “Everything. They gave us anything we wanted, so we took it.”
Academy's lead continued to grow during the second quarter as Franklin scored a layup off a steal and made a right-wing 3, although the standout point guard and 19-3A MVP contender then went to the bench after incurring his third foul with 5 minutes remaining.
McWilliams hung in the lane for a difficult layin, then Trae Rambeau's layup made it 32-13 before Cephus got the roll on his 3-pointer from the top. Two free throws by Tanner Rambeau and his inside basket pushed the advantage to 39-18 before Daugherty scored the final six points to help the Lions slice the Bees' halftime lead to 39-24.
Franklin wasn't necessarily out of contention to begin the second half, but a third-quarter scoring explosion by the streaky Cephus made sure that it was going to be Academy's day.
Tanner Rambeau started the Bees' scoring with an offensive rebound and putback hoop, then Cephus buried a 3-pointer from the right wing. After Franklin drove the left baseline for a skillful layup, Cephus used a pump-fake to gain open space and drove the right wing for a layin and a 48-28 lead.
Mraz penetrated and passed to Cephus for another right-wing 3-pointer, then Cephus capped his 11-point barrage in the third by beating the Lions' zone defense with an NBA-range 3. On a baseline inbound play, Tanner Rambeau's midair basket off a Franklin lob pass gave the Bees to a commanding 56-34 lead through three quarters.
“When Jerry gets hot, he's like Steph Curry. He doesn't miss,” Franklin said about Cephus. “He's the same way in open gym and in practices. He starts getting hot and starts talking.”
Said Tanner Rambeau: “Jerry's a shooter. Even when he's cold, he'll keep on shooting, and that's why he's so dangerous. Once he catches fire, it's pretty hard to get him to cool off.”
Added Holt: “We talk about wanting to be balanced. We've got some great players, and each game it may be a different player that steps up and hits big shots or gets us going and running. Today, Jerry was on fire.”
Russ said it was extremely difficult for Franklin to defend all of the weapons that Academy had at its disposal.
“They were in our district the last two years. No. 25 (Tanner Rambeau) won the MVP, No. 3 (McWilliams) won the MVP and No. 2 (Franklin) could win the MVP (this season). I mean, who are you going to defend? And then (Cephus) is making 3s on top of it,” Russ said. “You're going to have to play a great defensive game. They're a good team and I'm going to root for them all the way. I think they're going to go a long way.”
Tanner Rambeau then punctuated Academy's runaway victory early in the fourth, getting inside for two baskets before the 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior backed a smaller defender into the paint and made a 6-foot bank shot before completing the three-point play for an insurmountable 63-39 lead.
“I just had to be patient and let the game play out and develop how it did,” Tanner Rambeau said after climbing into the stands to celebrate with family, friends and other fans.
Added Holt: “It's the balance. We've got great guards and we've got an inside presence, and Tanner's a huge part of that inside presence along with us driving. Him 1-on-1 is a really good matchup for us.”
Now that Academy finally has overcome that pesky third-round obstacle, the Bees will begin preparing for the challenge of playing 23-3A champion New Waverly, which is Region III's highest-ranked team and has won its three playoff games by an average of 26.3 points.
“It's definitely an accomplishment, but the job's not done,” Tanner Rambeau said. “We still have some games left to play.”
BOYS HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
CLASS 3A REGION III QUARTERFINAL
No. 16 Academy 69,
No. 17 Franklin 47
Franklin 9 15 10 13 – 47
Academy 23 16 17 13 – 69
Franklin (18-2) – Malcom Murphy 17, Darren Daugherty 14, Seth Spiller 5, Devyn Hidrogo 4, Bryson Washington 3, Josh Atomanczyk 2, Braden Smith 2.
Academy (20-7) – Jerry Cephus 17, Darion Franklin 17, Tanner Rambeau 15, Jaylin McWilliams 13, Trae Rambeau 5, Grant Langfeld 2.
3-point field goals – Franklin 3 (Daugherty 2, Murphy 1); Academy 9 (Cephus 4, Franklin 3, McWilliams 1, Tr. Rambeau 1).
Free throws – Franklin 12-23; Academy 8-11.
Notes – Academy extends its winning streak to 13 games and advances to the Class 3A Region III semifinal vs. No. 7 New Waverly (26-1) at 6 p.m. next Friday at Madisonville High School; Academy reaches the fourth round of the playoffs for the first time since it won the 2A state championship in 2002.