STEUBENVILLE – It has been 431 days and 19 games since the last time the Franciscan men's basketball team has won on its home court but a dominant team effort by the Barons snapped that streak with a 67-52 win over Pitt.-Greensburg, Wednesday night.
"We got a big monkey off of our backs," exalted head coach Joe Wallace. "There have been a lot of dark clouds still hanging and I think we finally pushed them away. The faces on the guys after finally taking that step were just priceless. To win this one at home was special. It is really tough to go through a stretch that long at home."
It was the Barons' absolutely dominant second half that lifted the team to the win. Trailing by a point after the halftime break, Franciscan capitalized on a pair of Bobcat turnovers to turn a 26-25 deficit to a 29-26 lead. Junior Keoni Sablan hit a jumper after UPG coughed up the ball under its basket to give Franciscan a 27-26 lead and classmate Garrison Holmes made a layup after an offensive foul and turnover on the Bobcats next possession gave the Barons back the ball. Both benches made changes on the court but Wallace's subs proved to be a little more effective. Nate Burt missed a jumper for Greensburg and freshman Matt Trent came down the rebound then went coast-to-coast for the jumper to push the Baron lead to 31-26. Sablan capped the Barons' 7-0 run to open the second as he hit the backend of a trip to the free throw line to give FUS a 32-26 lead with 16:45 to play.
Joe Mancini hit a three with 16:32 to play to halt the Barons' run and cut the lead to 32-29. Freshman Joe Schriner answered with a jump shot to push the lead back to five, 34-29, but Kyle Bondi pulled the Bobcats to within three, 34-31, the closest they'd come for the next eight minutes. The Bobcats found themselves within five again, 42-37, but freshman Michael Mendicino drained a three from the back corner to give the Barons a 45-37 lead.
"[Mikey] has been struggling a little bit, but he's been putting time in the gym," remarked Coach Wallace. "He played well against Hilbert, thought he deserved a start in this game. We thought they were going to come out in the zone and this was a perfect game for him to play. It wasn't that he had 21 points, it was the shots he made at the time he made them. They were big, gutsy shots for a freshman to hit. We rode him for a while and to have a guy like that against a zone is great."
Mendicino gave the Barons their first 10-point lead with a jumper thanks to a steal and assist from senior Derrick David but the double-digit lead was short-lived as Brady Kingston hit a three to cut the lead back down to 47-40. The Bobcats used a 5-0 run to get within two, 47-45, but Sablan and Mendicino went back-to-back with threes to give Franciscan an eight-point lead with just over seven minutes to play.
Freshman Josh York scored the Barons' next seven points in a 7-3 run for the home team to extend the lead to 60-48 with 5:01 to play. Franciscan continued to play physical defense and kept the Bobcats at an arm's length before Sablan put the exclamation point in the win with a jumper with 40 seconds to play to hand Franciscan a 15-point win, 67-52.
The contest opened with a back-and-forth affair in the first half. The Barons needed to get their legs under them after the Bobcats raced out to a 16-4 lead. The Barons dug deep and used a 12-2 run to pull within two, capped by a three from David. The Bobcats pushed the lead back to four, but freshman Aaron Foldi came in and immediately hit a jumper to trim the deficit to two. After Kingston hit a three with 1:40 to play for the Bobcats, Franciscan used a 5-1 run to close out the half and went to the locker room trailing by just one, 26-25.
Mendicino scored a game-high 21 points, just one point shy of his career best, behind 7-for-13 shooting and 5-for-10 from beyond the three-point arc. York finished the day with seven points and pulled down five rebounds while Sablan posted a double-double with 10 point and 10 boards. Trent led all players with 13 rebounds to go along with his eight points. David picked up four assists, four steals and a block with his three points.
"Josh was really tremendous defensively. He was physical in the post and really helped out with the run when we took the game from a two-point lead and pushed out a 15 point win," complimented Coach Wallace.
Schriner's 11 points was his eighth double-digit point game this season and played well for the Barons. "I am tough on Joe," admitted Coach Wallace. "I think he can be a really good player for us for the next four years. I don't let up on him and he responded to what I did and played a really great game out there for us."
The Barons won the battle on the glass as they out-rebounded the Bobcats 54-34.
"Keoni and Derrick rebounding for us were great. For us to beat a team by 20 on the glass from where we were in November is amazing. Our rebounding has gotten so much better. It's not just our bigs that are rebounding, our guards too our really getting it done."
Franciscan plays its final game on Kuzma Court for the season on Saturday as the Barons welcome D'Youville on Saturday for a 3pm AMCC tip off. The Barons will honor their lone senior, Derrick David, before the game.