To coin a phrase from the voice of Boston College football and basketball, Jon Meter Parel, “Take a bow, Devonn Allen!”
When the Danvers High Basketball Falcons (now 9-0) needed a hero in their Friday night Northeastern Conference showdown with Salem (now 8-3) in the nearly-packed DHS field house, the ever-improving sophomore point guard stepped up and made all the difference in the world.
Allen scored his team’s last six points on three electrifying penetration drives down the lane and stole two key rebounds off missed teammates foul shots in the final 20 seconds to help preserve an ugly but rewarding 39-37 victory over a young Salem squad to whom the host Falcons tried to gift wrap the game.
Reminiscent of last year’s 41-38 Tong War loss to the Witches in Salem, this meeting had all the same characteristics: poor shooting, ghastly turnovers (16 by Danvers, 7 by Salem), deliberate offensive schemes at both ends and frightening foul shooting by the usually accurate Falcons in crunch time, i.e. missing their last six, including three front ends of 1-and-1s in the final 1:13.
But thankfully for the Falcons, Salem shot as many blanks over the last 2:30, during which neither team scored a single point and Salem missed its final eight shots, including a last-gasp three-pointer to win the game that was deflected by Vinny Clifford (take a bow, Vinny) as time ran out.
When Danvers raced out to an 8-zip lead in the first four minutes, the Falcon fandom sensed a blowout, but as they have seen too many times this year, the hometown heroes sputtered way too often with turnovers, cold shooting and their tendency to play down to the level of the opponent, such as was the case with Saugus and Beverly for a half and Lynn Classical and Marblehead for most of the game.
Granted, we expect marvelous things from this squad every night they take the court, but they certainly appear to be playing way below their championship potential. Yet, they are showing one excellent trait — the ability to find a way to win in crunch time (as with Marblehead, Somerville, Classical and now Salem).
For all the unexpected miscues and misfires they committed, each of the five starters made a timely play when it mattered most in the fourth quarter last night, even Devan Harris, who led the Falcons with 14 points but once again got in foul trouble and in this case fouled out with 3:55 to go, and DHS leading 37-31, on a highly questionable offensive foul call after he made one of his patented drives to the basket, scored, then knocked down a defender, a call which is rarely made.
The only points Danvers scored after that came on Allen’s gorgeous drive down the lane with 2:46 remaining.
Rashad Francois came up with a huge steal with 19.9 seconds left, Peter Merry grabbed some clutch rebounds, blocked six shots and effectively played Mr. Intimidator in the defensive lane all night, as Salem coach Tom Doyle pointed out afterward, Clifford hit two of his patented the-point bombs early on and, well, the somehow pulled it out.
“We’re glad we won,” John Walsh said later, “but that was no fun locker room once we left the floor. We have an awful lot of stuff to work on; stuff we have to improve upon as soon as we can. I’m proud of these kids and how resilient they have show to be these first nine games. We expect to be in tough games every night no matter who we play.”
In the most critical segment of the game, Devonn Allen rose about the fray and displayed his offensive virtuosity despite having played tight man-to-man defense on his quicker Salem rival all night, and the energy to deliver when the game was on the line.
“Devonn’s a competitor like no other right now,” Walsh said. “He plays so hard, never lets up, never stops, and he’s not afraid to take over the game when we have the ball. He is some kind of warrior.
Each starter has issues to deal with, where each appears to be underachieving. But they are still a work in progress, including the development ofd the two key reserves, Mike Nestor and Tre. But at 9-0 and as the No. 2-ranked team in Eastern Massachusetts based on The Boston Globe weekly poll, the Falcons sit comfortably as an elite team, a status we can savor, despite the “Perils of Pauline” game scenarios that have been giving our aging hearts palpitations. Joyful palpitations.
Next week at Revere Tuesday, host Peabody Friday, then the Falcons’ other high NEC hurdle — at once-beaten Division 1 power Lynn English on the 27th.