Two minutes into Thursday night’s highly anticipated rematch at Beverly, the Danvers High boys basketball team led 11-2 after making its first four shots, three of them from three-point land. But as had been the case in its three prior losses, one by two points another by one, their three-point game went cold at the wrong time, finishing 8-for-28, 5-for-16 in the second half. Win by the sword and sometimes lose by the sword, in this case a heavily accented three-point shooting offense.
Combine that factor with Beverly’s significant edge with its inside power game and shooting guard Sam Traicoff’s 26 points (though he got plenty of help), the host Panthers (13-5) were able to win its seventh in a row while snapping Danvers’ eight-game win streak, 68-66, before an enthusiastic crowd.
Most important, the Falcons (13-4, 12-3 in the NEC Large) may have to wait until their one remaining Conference game at Peabody February 24 to clinch their fifth successive Division title, this the Large after winning the last four NEC Small titles.
“Tell Danvers we wont make them wait that long,” a rather happy Beverly coach Scott Lewis said afterward, grateful his squad could make up for its frustrating 53-49 loss at Danvers a few weeks ago. “We’ll beat (second place) Lynn English (with 4 losses, while Beverly has five after a rocky start to the season) for them on the 23rd.”
The fact is the Falcons could have stolen this one just like Beverly could have stolen the meeting in Danvers.
“We played terrible,” Danvers coach John Walsh said as his dejected team walked through the Henry Cabot Lodge Field house on the way to its bus for as thankfully short ride back to DHS. It was pretty obvious how Walsh meant “terrible.”
First and foremost for giving up 68 points, though they gave up 63 in turning back host Lynn Classical the night before, 68-63. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. Playing their standard tight man defense with some double teaming thrown in, the same defense used by Beverly, the superbly conditioned Falcons still had to be sucking a little wind down the stretch.
Walsh went pretty much with his first five all night, required in part because super sub Tahg Coakley was sitting on the bench in street clothes unavailable for action after playing a fine game off the bench at Classical.
After the team’s topo four scorers scored either 16 points or 15 at Lynn, Rashad Francois (28) and Devonn Allen (24) carried the offense and it wasn’t enough. The usually reliable Tre Crittendon was held to nine points on 3-for-8 shooting, hitting three threes.
Mike Nestor a marvelous two-way standout at Lynn, did his usual fierce battling on defense and on the boards but was shut out on the scoreboard, shooting 0-for-6).
After Beverly recovered from Danvers’ dazzling start and a ctually took the lead, 18-16, after one quarter, the Falcons played catchup for much of the rest of the game.
They showed wonderful determination in cutting a 34-26 halftime deficit to within 34-31 early in the third quarter, then turned a 43-31 disadvantage into a 51-50 game after three quarters, sparked by Rashad’s 11 points on four highlight film spin drives to the basket and a three-pointer for the final points of the session.
“Rashad was just terrific,” Walsh said. “He carried us again (as he did with 30 against Lynn English last week). “I’m very proud of him.”
It was anyone’s game in the finale, with ties at 51, 53 and 56 on matching treys from Francois and Traicoff. But then the Falcons missed six shots in a row, fell back 65-58 with 2:20 when Traicoff hit another three, and the visitors looked dead.
But Francois pulled off another penetration spin-drive layup (now down 5) and Allen converted a three-point play on a gorgeous baseline drive reverse layup with 1:34 left (after missing two foul shots 22 seconds earlier). Traicoff missed a mid-range jumper with 33 seconds left and the Falcons had a golden opportunity to tie or go ahead on the next offensive sequence, but Crittendon missed an open trey and Allen missed a put-back when it appeared he was fouled.
Two Beverly foul shots made it 67-63 with 18 seconds remaining, Allen missed two deep threes at the other end and the win streak was over.
“We always give great effort with great energy,” Walsh said, “but tonight we definitely were not mentally tough enough and we lacked proper leadership on the floor. We didn’t box out their big men well enough.
The three-point shots were there and the deliberate Danvers offense led to countless successful penetrations through Beverly’s man defense, but too many of those were missed as well, despite the many that Rashad and Devonn converted.
“They’re an extremely difficult team to defend,” Lewis said of Danvers. “We were fortunate tonight by playing pretty much an honest man defense, though they almost beat us with a combination outside/inside offense.
“At the same time we were happy to score as many inside points as we did to go along with some fine outside shooting. A great game both teams deserved to win. And No. 1 (Francois) almost won it single handedly for them.”
So the Falcons have now lost four games by a total of 11 points. They next play in the Holliston tournament Sunday at 1 against Natick and hopefully Monday (if successful Sunday) in the title game (time to be determined) against the Holliston-Framingham winner.
This loss does little to tarnish what has been to this stage a sensational Danvers season. Win the next two at Holliston, beat Masconomet February 21 and get fired up for Peabody. Then comes tourney time. So much to look forward to with this crew of dedicated Falcon players.