WORTH THE WAIT: After storm-caused hiatus, Franklin fuels Academy boys' 70-43 playoff rout of Teague
BACK ON THE ATTACK: Playing his first game since Feb. 9, Academy junior point guard Darion Franklin made three consecutive 3-point shots in the first quarter and scored 16 of his game-high 18 points in the first half to help the No. 16-ranked Bumblebees beat Teague 70-43 in a Class 3A bi-district playoff game Saturday evening in Riesel. Senior guard Jaylin McWilliams added 12 points for District 19-3A champion Academy (18-7), which has won its last 11 games and will play 18-3A No. 2 seed Scurry-Rosser in the area round at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Buffalo High School. Senior Tanner Rambeau and sophomore Scout Brazeal scored 10 points each for the Bees. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
RIESEL – Because of the persistent winter storm that put Central Texas in a deep freeze and dominated people's lives for a full week, the Academy boys basketball team was unable to do anything organized together from its 53-32 win at rival Rogers last Friday until its Class 3A bi-district playoff game against Teague on Saturday evening.
The proloned wait for even longer for junior point guard Darion Franklin, who missed the Rogers game because of disciplinary reasons as his Bumblebees completed their second straight undefeated run to the District 19-3A championship.
Finally with an opportunity to get back on the court, Franklin and No. 16-ranked Academy didn't take very long to get back up to full speed.
Franklin made three consecutive 3-point shots during his 11-point first quarter that sparked the Bees, and their turnover-producing defense frustrated Teague throughout as Academy charged to a thorough 70-43 victory at the Riesel High School gym.
“It feels really good. That game off against Rogers made me mad,” said Franklin, who's helped power Academy to a 26-0 district record the last two seasons. “So me coming back, I had to play as hard as I can. I was just itching to play real bad. This is my favorite sport.”
Academy fifth-year head coach James Holt expected his squad to exhibit some rust in its first action in more than a week, but the Bees (18-7) overcame any layoff-related problems by playing with maximum effort and intensity.
“We did not have a practice. This is our first time to touch a ball since Rogers. We played on a Friday (Feb. 12) and then we played today,” Holt said after the Bees won their postseason opener for the third straight season. “I thought the key was just to come out and play hard. I told the kids, 'We're going to make mistakes because we haven't touched a ball in eight days, but let's make those mistakes full-speed. Let's not make those mistakes because we're tired and we're going to take a play off here and there. If you're tired, we've got a good bench and let's get a substitute in there who can go full-speed.'”
Franklin scored 16 of his game-high 18 points in the first half, and Bees senior guard Jaylin McWilliams scored nine of his 12 points in the first two periods as Academy built up a 35-19 halftime lead. Senior power forward Tanner Rambeau scored 10 points, and so did sophomore reserve guard Scout Brazeal – all in the fourth quarter as the Bees' starters supported the backups from the bench.
Academy has won 11 games in a row since its 77-74 home loss to 4A No. 21-ranked Waco La Vega on Jan. 5. The Bees advanced to next week's area round and will play 18-3A No. 2 seed Scurry-Rosser at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Buffalo High School. Scurry-Rosser defeated Riesel in bi-district action Saturday.
INSIDE FORCE: Academy senior power forward Tanner Rambeau (25) goes up against Teague defenders Tylin Randle (left) and Wayland Allison to score two of his 10 points during the 16th-ranked Bumblebees' 70-43 win over the Lions in a Class 3A bi-district playoff game Saturday in Riesel. Looking on are Bees junior guards Trae Rambeau (left) and Darion Franklin. Academy (18-7) won its postseason opener for the third consecutive year. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Muscular senior guard Nemier Herod scored 13 points to lead Teague (9-16), which didn't secure 20-3A's No. 4 seed until Crockett beat Groesbeck earlier Saturday at Riesel in a weather-postponed game to solidify that district's final standings. Lanky freshman guard Jehmel Rice contributed 12 points and junior forward Wayland Allison added 11 for the Lions, who were hindered by 10 first-half turnovers and 17 giveaways through three quarters.
Teague also made only four 3-point shots and was 11-of-21 on free throws, while Academy drilled eight 3-pointers and was 8-for-10 from the foul line.
For the first 1½ minutes, anyway, Academy looked like a team that hadn't been able to get into the gym for a full week to work on its game. Rice made a 15-foot jump shot 18 seconds into the game and then hit a 10-foot jumper for a 4-0 lead with 50 seconds gone, while the Bees misfired on their first two shots from 3-point range.
“I think we hadn't touched a ball in eight days,” Holt said, “and it kind of showed early.”
McWilliams, last season's 19-3A Most Valuable Player, got Academy going by slicing in from the left wing for a layup, then he was fouled after a Teague turnover and made both free throws for a 4-4 deadlock.
Then it was Franklin's time not only to shine but to supply the Bees with a comfortable lead that the Lions never threatened.
After his team created a turnover, Franklin made his first 3-point from the left corner for Academy's first advantage at 7-4 with 6:06 remaining in the first quarter. Then he snared a crosscourt pass and sank a 3 from the left wing to make it 10-4. And when the Lions inexplicably left him wide open on the left wing, Franklin buried another 3 – his third connection from beyond the arc in a span of 1:56 – to stake the Bees to a commanding 13-4 lead midway through the opening period.
“Darion was on fire early, so that kind of got us going,” Holt said. “When he's going good, it kind of gets everybody rolling and in a good mood and playing well.”
Franklin said he entered the game with a focused, specific mindset: “Kill whoever's in front of me.”
Teague guard Jacob Callahan finally put a small delay in Franklin's personal tour de force by making a right-corner 3 for a 13-7 game, but Franklin responded with a close-range basket off a deft pass from senior guard Jerry Cephus. Franklin missed his next 3-point attempt, but junior guard Trae Rambeau grabbed the rebound in midair and converted the putback bucket to make it 17-7 with 3:04 left, helping the Bees lead 17-9 after collecting seven Teague turnovers in the first quarter.
Academy essentially put the game out of reach with a red-hot start to the second period. Another Lions turnover led to Franklin's easy layin, and he made one of two free throws after a Teague player was called for an intentional foul for shoving Franklin in the back on an attempted layup. Tanner Rambeau scored an inside basket, then McWilliams made a skillful reverse layup and nailed an open 3 from the left wing to extend the Bees' advantage to 27-10 1:43 into the second.
LET IT FLY: Academy senior guard Jaylin McWilliams takes a 3-point shot over Teague senior defender Nemier Herod during the No. 16-ranked Bumblebees' 70-43 victory against the Lions in a Class 3A bi-district playoff game Saturday night in Riesel. McWilliams, last season's District 19-3A MVP, made two 3-pointers and scored 12 points to help Academy notch its 11th consecutive win. Looking on for the Bees are junior Darion Franklin (2), senior Kollin Mraz (1), senior Tanner Rambeau (entering lane) and junior Trae Rambeau. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Burly inside force Tanner Rambeau – the 19-3A MVP as a sophomore – scored two more point-blank baskets off passes from Franklin, and McWilliams fired a 75-foot, one-armed pass to Franklin for an easy layup to help Academy take a 35-19 lead into the halftime break.
Any hope that Teague had to make a comeback was extinguished in the third quarter. Tanner Rambeau scored two close-range buckets, then Cephus blocked a Herod 3-point shot before senior guard Kollin Mraz added a follow-up hoop for a 41-23 lead.
Cephus scored off a steal, McWilliams sank a right-corner 3 and Franklin made a putback before Mraz's difficult finish on a fast break produced a three-point play, punctuating a 12-0 spurt for a 51-23 advantage with 1:49 remaining. Senior reserve post Tyler Lambert made back-to-back inside baskets to push Academy's lead to 55-25 after three quarters.
The 30-point margin allowed Holt to put his starting lineup – Franklin and seniors Cephus, Mraz, McWilliams and Tanner Rambeau – on the bench for the entire final period. That gave Brazeal the opportunity to make two 3-pointers and score 10 points, while sophomore point guard Cole Shackelford's five points included a right-corner 3 shortly after a hard foul knocked him into the first row of seats, with his shot eliciting a spirited reaction from his teammates and Academy's fans.
“I would love if our starters didn't play a fourth quarter all playoffs, because that means we're where we want to be,” Holt said. “It's good for our bench guys to get more playing time, because if you saw our (Region III quarterfinal) last year against Crockett, we were in foul trouble. Darion was in foul trouble. So our bench guys have to be able to come in and contribute in a big game. And at the same time, we don't want anybody getting hurt, so we try to take care of that.”
An area-round win Wednesday against Scurry-Rosser would propel Academy into its third straight appearance in the Region III quarterfinals. The first two ended with intense, rugged losses to Crockett: 50-41 two years ago and 58-52 last year, ending the Bees' season at 30-7.
Academy can't run into Crockett again this season until the regional final, but the Bees might clash with 20-3A champion and No. 17-ranked Franklin (17-1) – the only program to defeat Academy in its last 40 district games – in a Region III quarterfinal late next week.
“I think it's important to all these kids. They know this could be a really special year, even though it's probably been the craziest year in their life. But I do think for the seniors there is probably something a little bit extra there,” Holt said. “And I think we'll see it more as the playoffs go, that when the games get tight, that's when your players have to show up. The good thing is we've got a deep team and I think it's important to all of them, so we're just going to keep playing hard.”
Said Franklin, Academy's lone junior starter, about the Bees' five seniors and the vital elements to continuing their playoff run: “I just wish the best for those guys. I've been playing with those guys since I was very young, so I want to make this the best year they've ever had. Keep your composure, play your game and just have fun.”
BOYS HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
CLASS 3A BI-DISTRICT PLAYOFF
No. 16 Academy 70, Teague 43
Teague 9 10 6 18 – 43
Academy 17 18 20 15 – 70
Teague (9-16) – Nemier Herod 13, Jehmel Rice 12, Wayland Allison 11, Xavier Harvey 4, Jacob Callahan 3.
Academy (18-7) – Darion Franklin 18, Jaylin McWilliams 12, Scout Brazeal 10, Tanner Rambeau 10, Kollin Mraz 5, Cole Shackelford 5, Tyler Lambert 4, Jerry Cephus 2, Chris Preddie 2, Trae Rambeau 2.
3-point field goals – Teague 4 (Allison 1, Callahan 1, Herod 1, Rice 1); Academy 8 (Franklin 3, Brazeal 2, McWilliams 2, Shackelford 1).
Free throws – Teague 11-21; Academy 8-10.
Note – Academy extends winning streak to 11 games and advances to area round to play Scurry-Rosser at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Buffalo High School.