Courtesy of Franklin Athletics

FRANKLIN, Ind. -- Franklin College fought back from a 17-point first-half deficit to take the lead in the second period before falling to eighth-ranked Wabash in a 77-74 men’s basketball thriller in the Spurlock Center gym tonight.

The Little Giants, rated eighth this week in the Top 25 national poll, improved to 12-0 while the Grizzlies dropped to 4-7.

Wabash scored the first 10 points of the game before increasing its lead to 17 points on two occasions. Trailing 32-17 with 8-1/2 minutes left in the opening half, Franklin outscored the visitors 18-6 the rest of the period to pull to within three points at 38-35 at the intermission.

The Grizzlies took their first lead when sophomore forward Gunner Erwin (Salem, Ind./H.S.) scored on a layup and then hit a 3-pointer to put FC up 45-43 with 16:09 remaining. From that point on, the contest remained tight and in the final two minutes Erwin hit a 3-pointer to cut the Little Giants’ edge to one at 75-74 with 1:32 left.

But Wabash kept the Grizzlies off the scoreboard after that while getting a pair of free throws from Derek Bailey with 12 seconds to go for the game’s final points.

Senior guard Wes Smith scored a game-high 23 points, junior A.J. Sutherlin tallied 16 points in a substitute role, senior Ben Burkett scored 12 and junior Aaron Zinnerman chipped in 10 for the visitors.

Freshman Bailey Howard (Nashville, Ind./Brown County H.S.) led FC with 22 points off the bench. Erwin was next with 17 points and a game-best 12 rebounds and junior Zach Merschbrock (Charlestown, Ind./H.S.) contributed 15 points and seven rebounds as a sub in the post. FC collected 34 rebounds to Wabash’s 24 .

The Little Giants, who rank fifth in Division III in defending the 3-point shot, saw Franklin hit seven of nine attempts from behind the arc. Moreover, Wabash had not surrendered more than 60 points to an opponent this season coming in.