TOMS RIVER, NJ -- The Franklin girls basketball team has shown plenty of drive in its quest for perfection.
And the Warriors spent four quarters driving with impunity past another overmatched opponent Sunday.
The undefeated Warriors extended their winning streak to 32 games with a 73-35 victory over Lenape for their third consecutive Group 4 state championship on the campus of Toms River North High School. And they did so by exploiting their ability to penetrate Lenape’s defense time and time again.
Freshman forward Christina Midgette scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead four scorers in double digits for Franklin, which got 15 points and nine rebounds from Diamond Miller, 15 points and 10 rebounds from Kennady Schenck and 11 points and six rebounds from Keona Schenck. And senior point guard Tiana Jackson handed out a team-high six assists to go with nine points.
Franklin has earned the top seed in this week's Tournament of Champions, and, with it, a first-round bye. The Warriors will play the winner of Tuesday's game between Newark University and St. Rose in Thursday's semifinal at Toms River North at 7 p.m. The championship game is next Sunday at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
There is a certain inevitability to the demoralizing runs that Franklin unleashes on its opponents in virtually every game. The Warriors put Lenape away with one that commenced late in the first quarter, but it didn’t materialize in the usual fashion.
Instead of pulling away from its South Jersey opponent with its usual suffocating full-court pressure or its searing transition game, Franklin (32-0) this time did it mostly by mercilessly attacking the rim in the halfcourt game.
Leading, 13-7, Franklin ran off the next 16 points as part of a larger 23-2 spurt. It began with Miller taking the ball to the basket for a layup, followed by a driving bucket by Keona Schenck. Midgette then finished off the first quarter scoring with an and-one layup she converted into her second traditional 3-point play of the quarter for a 20-7 lead.
Midgette also scored the first four points of the second quarter on a layup and two free throws. Miller followed with a crossover move to the basket for two, and Jackson also took it to the hole for a foul-drawing layup and another 3-point play that made it 29-7.
By that point it had become readily apparent that Lenape could not handle Franklin’s dribble penetration. But, had Lenape scouted and viewed video of Franklin’s Section 2, Group 4 final victory over Bayonne last Tuesday, the Indians would have come away extra conscious of Franklin’s ability to shoot from the perimeter. And, indeed, Sunday’s game began with Miller, the 6-foot-1 McDonald’s All-American, swishing two 3-point baskets right out of the gate.
“When you start making your 3s, it makes it much easier for you to drive to the basket,” Miller said. “We played a very well-rounded game today.”
Jackson may have been the only starter not to score in double digits, but her slick and stylish ball-handling and floor direction was an integral part of Franklin’s ability to blow by their opposing defenders at myriad opportunities.
“When you make 3-pointers and you can drive to the basket, it’s hard to defend both,” Jackson said. “Coach (Audrey Taylor) told us that we needed to use our athletic advantage against them.”
In the first half, which ended with Franklin holding a 36-12 lead, Lenape made exactly two baskets in 23 attempts. The Indians finished the game 12-for-50 (24 percent), but a good many of those baskets came in the game’s final stages after Taylor had pulled most of her starters.
“We were able to play them in ‘five’. There was really no need for the press today,” said Miller, a University of Maryland commit who has 2,381 career points. “Our man-to-man defense was on ‘lockdown’ today.”
Lenape (28-4) 7 5 5 18 -- 35
Franklin (32-0) 20 16 25 12 -- 73