PATERSON — Neither Franklin coach Audrey Taylor, star guard Diamond Miller, nor anybody associated with the team would consider the Warriors' play Saturday their absolute sharpest.
The scary thing is, despite the performance being far from perfection, Franklin was still able to take down one of the best teams in the state.
When it took the court against powerhouse Saddle River Day Saturday night in the New Year's Resolution Showcase at Paterson Eastside, Franklin hadn’t played a game since December 22 — over two weeks. The Warriors certainly showed some rust, but nonetheless were able to grind out a big 59-53 win over the Colonial Rebels, currently ranked No. 4 in the state per N.J. Advance Media (Franklin is No. 3).
“It feels good to win, but it was just very sloppy,” Miller, who scored a game-high 20 points, said. “[Tonight showed] that we could be very dangerous when we play to our abilities and make shot, make foul shots. Just knowing this is a confidence builder for us, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Miller, a 6-foot-1 Maryland commit currently ranked as the 18th-best player in the country by ESPN, scored her 20 points on eight field goals to lead Franklin. Joining Miller in double-digit scoring were Tiana Jackson and Kennady Schenck, who each had 10 points. Keona Schenck added nine points.
Miller has now scored 20 or more points in Franklin’s last three contests, and is averaging 20.2 points-per-game.
“That’s what Diamond does,” said Taylor. “We appreciate what Diamond does for our team, and we’ll take her over anyone in the state.”
Though Franklin never trailed, the Warriors’ once 14-point lead was cut down to a single point, 52-51, after Saddle River’s Elle Tharby hit a layup with 2:47 remaining in the game, which was the tail end of a 13-3 Rebel run.
However, Franklin bore down and stopped the bleeding right there. Keona Schenck made both free throws 20 seconds later to give the Warriors some breathing room, and then Miller scored four points — a field goal and then two foul shots — within a 40-second span to stretch the lead to 58-51 with just 57 seconds left, which all but iced the game.
Franklin seemed to be running away with it when it went ahead, 49-38, after a Keona Schenck bucket with 6:08 remaining, but the Rebels would forge the 13-3 stretch 10 seconds later. The ensuing two-and-a-half minutes were certainly the dark spot of Franklin’s night, but no victory against the third-best team in the state is easy, and what’s most important is that the Warriors found a way to leave Paterson’s fifth ward with a W.
“We didn’t do well with moving the ball; we didn’t share the ball well; we didn’t play well as a team; and we missed some free throws,” Taylor said. “But it’s still a gut win — we grinded it out, stayed together, and pulled out a big win. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”
Eight of Miller’s 20 points came during the third quarter, as the senior helped feign off Saddle River’s scrappy rally attempts. She opened up the half's scoring with a bucket, then scored six points in a 1:05 span to extend the lead to 37-28 before both sides started trading baskets.
“Always have to play hard and leave everything out on the floor,” Miller said of playing in the adverse second half. “We have to score. You could play as good of defense as you want, but you need to score on the other side.”
Early on, Franklin sure executed both of those keys Miller explained.
The Warriors came out on fire and scored the game’s first seven points en route to a game-opening 13-2 run, and remained atop by a similar margin for most of the opening half. Kennady Schenck scored the game’s first points on a three-pointer, and proceeded to drop seven of her 10 points during that dominant Franklin stretch.
Saddle River responded late in the second quarter with a 9-0 run to make it 27-22. But Kennady Schenck put and end to that when she plucked a Saddle River inbounds out of the air and put in a layup as time expired to send the Warriors into the locker room with a 29-22 lead.
“You could definitely see us a little bit winded, and the way we were moving the ball showed that the offense wasn’t fluid,” Taylor said. “Little things like that are how you could definitely tell we were a little rusty.”
“We started to value our possessions a little more, but there are so many things right now that we need to look at,” she added. “This is going to be a great learning tool for us. We’ll watch film and get better from it.”
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