Merry (36), Harris (10 in 4th) Carry Unbeaten DHS Cagers to 7th Win, But 21 turnovers a major concern

It isn’t getting any easier for the unbeaten Danvers High boys basketball team to fight off challenges from their Northeastern Conference rivals. The defending NEC champs, plagued by sloppy ball-handling (21 turnovers) against Lynn Classical’s effective zone, needed a career performance from center Peter Merry (36 points) and a critical 10-point fourth quarter from the slump-breaking Devan Harris (14 points total) to turn back the visiting Rams Friday night, 67-56, in a near-capacity  DHS field house.

Merry’s marvelous offensive wizardry (10-for-10 from the floor, 21 points) powered the Falcons to a 36-23 halftime lead, despite the fact Harris was shut out for the first half, the third and fourth quarters in a row, with minimal scoring opportunities. Merry was a consistent offensive force the second half as well, finishing 14-for-17 from the floor, 8-for-11 from the foul line) and scored seven key points in the fourth quarter, before Harris took command, when the quick and high-jumping Rams closed within 58-52 with 3:20 remaining. Seven fourth-quarter turnovers helped keep the Lynners close.

Harris, a vital part of the Falcons’ offensive arsenal, was the necessary ingredient that carried the home team the rest of the way, giving the fans a much-needed sigh of relief after he’d scoured only four points in Wednesday’s three-point home victory over Marblehead. The big issue with Harris’s low-scoring output seems to be the difficult his teammates are having getting him the ball in his favored scoring positions around the paint. I sense the 2014 NEC MVP will break out big time in next week’s games at Beverly and hosting Salem.

Accurate foul shooting (15-for-18) also played a key role in win No. 7.

At game’s end, as family and friends surrounded the 6-9 Merry on his memorable offensive showing — Classical didn’t have any player listed over 6-5, but, as always, their quickness and leaping ability allowed them to contest most of Peter’s shots — the Falcons’ two major concerns remained to be pondered:

1. Senior captain Vinny Clifford’s revised playing role

2. The team’s shoddy dribbling and passing against pressing defenses.

Clifford’s situation seems to have become clear. After tweaking his surgically repaired right knee at Saugus Monday, he and coach John Walsh have decided to play him in shorter stints, maybe two or three minutes at a time, since the knee is giving Clifford discomfort, but nothing that he can’t play with, nor nothing that will harm the knee. He played two longer-than-normal stints in the second half. It’s apparently the nature of the surgery. The knee is fine structurally, but will give Vinny minimal to moderate pain which he will have to play through. He looked fine moving about last night, especially when he hit successive three-pointers from opposite baseline corners in the second quarter. Most important, the pair is on the same page in realizing the Falcons could conceivably play a 25-game season if they have a deep tournament run. No need to push the knee too hard before the schedule reaches the mid-season mark.

As for the problems the Falcons are having getting the ball up the court and dealing with halfcourt zone traps as well, that’s something the coaches and players must resolve. This is a team that was 20-3 last year and rarely took such poor care of the ball. They make similar poor decisions in the two big games upcoming, hosting Salem next Friday and playing at Lynn English on January 27th, they’ll get their heads handed to them, a most unlikely scenario.

Fact is, Walsh’s current seven-player rotation is cable of playing a flawless offensive floor game if their heads are into it. Hopefully they’ll play more like that come Tuesday at Beverly before Salem comes to town Friday.

Then again, let’s not remember the highly ranked Falcons, experiencing the greatest success in program history and the most sustained success of any major sport team in school history, is seven and zero. ‘Tis lovely. Hopefully the team and its fans can continue to enjoy this unprecedented victory ride, even as we overemphasize the one or two negative issues quite evident in this seven-win season start. We avid observers are never satisfied.

Starting guard Rashad Francois gave us all a scare early in the second quarter when he went down hard to the floor with the score tied at 16. He stayed down on the floor for some time, holding his right leg, but after getting attention from the trainer he was able to get up with help and walk to the bench on his own power and return to the game seemingly none the worse for wear.

The Falcons had a rocky night from three-point land except for the two Clifford made and a single trey Francois made in the first quarter.



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