COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Tuesday's OCC-City League clash between Franklin Heights and West brought the entire west side out. Despite being in separate leagues and school districts, West and Franklin Heights are separated by only two miles, which made Tuesday's game a big one for bragging rights. While West controlled the game for most of the evening, an 11-0 run to close the game was the clincher, as Franklin Heights held home court in a 52-48 victory.
West had all the momentum early on, surviving a shaky start and establishing a rhythm as they led at the half 30-19.
Franklin Heights never stopped fighting, as the Falcons played from behind the entire second half.
The game changed with three minutes remaining, when West sophomore point guard Jahmere Johnson picked up his fifth foul. Johnson's exit from the game, combined with poor free throw shooting and untimely turnovers ultimately spelled West's demise.
Franklin Heights senior guards Billy Berry and Elijah Shinaba came up major in the final three minutes, scoring the final eight points for the Falcons in an 11-0 run that spanned more than five minutes.
Shinaba's go-ahead score off a big steal from Berry gave Franklin Heights the lead for good at 50-48 with just under a minute to play.
West failed to convert two free throws to tie the game on the other end, allowing Berry to ice it at the free throw line.
Franklin Heights picks up a big win in Ray Miller's first game (more on him later) and will look to improve to 2-0 on Friday when they take on Westerville North.
For West, the Cowboys will look to get back on the winning side of things when they host International on Thursday.
Shinaba led all scorers with 20 points for the Falcons, while Berry added 12.
West was led by 12 points from junior wing Jaevon Breckenridge.
Let's take a look at five keys to Franklin Heights' victory on Tuesday.
1. Senior leadership: The Falcons have a core trio of senior guards in Berry, Shinaba and Abdul Fofana that led the way on Tuesday. This trio proved to step up big time in the latter stages of the game, pressuring a young West team and forcing them into costly mistakes. Franklin Heights will need this trio, especially Shinaba, to play at the level they showed on Tuesday to be competitive in the OCC-Capital.
2. Ball control: Holding West without a field goal for the final five minutes, Franklin Heights stepped up big time on the defensive end and brought that tenacity to the offensive end. The Falcons took care of business when it mattered most late, carving out a big win for momentum. The handful of turnovers and key rebounds on missed West free throws gave Franklin Heights the chance they needed to close late.
3. Free throw woes: West had every opportunity to put the game away on Tuesday. The Cowboys missed their final three free throws, allowing Franklin Heights to get back into the game. That combined with untimely turnovers spelled the demise of the Cowboys.
4. Jahmere Johnson's fifth foul: When Johnson went out with three minutes remaining, the wheels fell off for West. The sophomore lead guard is the calm of the Cowboy offense and is one of the team's key defenders. They'll need him on the floor for all 32 minutes to give themselves the best shot to win. With Johnson off the floor, West really struggled to take care of the ball and find open looks.
5. Ray Miller is back and better than ever: The iconic long time Grove City coach returns to Columbus after 14 years in Las Vegas. While he may have retired coaching in Central Ohio in 2008, Miller never stopped coaching hoops altogether. Back in Columbus, Miller voluntarily took on a challenging Falcons job and is ready and willing to turn the program around. His intensity and leadership paid dividends, as this Franklin Heights team just looks different than in years past. They move different, they warm up different, they play different and they finished different. As Miller told his team in the locker room after the game, "the old Falcons would have quit, but you guys never gave up." Great coaches can make their players believe and Miller's team never stopped believing they could win, even while trailing by 13 points in the second half. We are excited to see what Miller can do with this group by season's end.