Allen, Then Harris Carry The Danvers High Boys Cagers To A Wild 53-47 Win At Marblehead

Sophomore Devonn Allen and senior Devan Harris proved Thursday night on Brad Sheridan Court in the Marblehead High field house that a two-player offense is sometimes the best way to fight off a most capable, upset-minded opponent.

Point-man-turned-wingmanAllen staged the most clutch three-point shooting performance of the season for the unbeaten Danvers High Falcons — on a foreign floor no less, hitting five three-pointers, three in succession, in the first half as the visitors grabbed a 26-17 halftime lead. Without his marksmanship it might have been a tie game — or worse for DHS — at intermission.

Then Charles Barkley clone Harris, like Allen, mightily improved with his long distance shooting from a year ago, did Allen one better, simply because of the dramatic timing, running off nine straight points in the fourth quarter, including two monstrous three-pointers with 1:59 and 1:17 left.

Those bombs broke Marblehead’s back and spirit, turning a 44-44 tie into a 50-44 advantage. ultimately resulting in a 53-47 Danvers triumph, with three Allen free throws in the final minute clinching matters.

It was arguably the Falcons’ most extraordinary win of this latest “dream” season, now at 17-0 with the Wobirn Invitational coming up Sunday at 1:30 against Bishop Feehan, weather permitting.

Marblehead nearly stole victory from the Falcons when they met in Danvers, holding Harris to four points and sharpshooter Vinny Claifford to five, but Rashad Francois canned a critical three-pointer and Vinny sank two free throws to save that one.

Last night Marblehead’s crafty coach, Mike Giardi, known better for his baseball coaching expertise, put his Headers (9-8) in position again to pull off the major upset, this time stifling Clifford’s offensive game with a box-and-1 defense that kept No. 21 off the scoreboard the entire night. Though Vinny contributed in several other areas, especially on defense and in rebounding.

At the same time, the Falcons were able to overcome other difficulties that easily could have led to their first setback. Instead, they are one victory away from matching their school-record 18-0 start of two years ago.

Senior center Peter Merry was his usual giant self at the defensive end with nine rebounds and four blocks and was able to deal successfully with playing with three personal fouls from late in the second quarter on, but he was shut out offensively in the second half.

Francois and starting off guard Mike Nestor were never able to get their shooting hands warmed up, thus junior guard Tre Crittendon was thrust into the spotlight and played a huge supporting role at point guard, with Allen moved to the wing to exploit his fantastic shooting night. Allen cooled off the second half, while Tre missed his first five shots, but made a monumental three-pointer from atop the key for a 41-36 lead early in the fourth and his overall floor play and defense was a key factor in the team’s fourth-quarter heroics. Nestor, too, came back to play strong defense in the fourth quarter.

But the game’s two “stars” deservedly went to the Devonn/Devan Dynamic Duo. Allen, clearly the best defensive player for the Falcons, as he showed once again last night, was 5-for-8 for threes the first half, 6-for-12 for the game, and, after getting slapped with two personal fouls in the game’s first five-plus minutes, never got assessed with a third by the shakily officiated three-man crew. He shared game-high scoring honors with Allen, each with 21. That’s 42 out of 53 points. Harris now has seven 20-plus point games to his credit this season.

Allen has emerged as a stunning clutch force in the most important games, as evidenced by last night and his brilliant play that saved the Salem game (39-37). He may be the best two-way backcourt player in the Northeastern Conference. Harris, meanwhile, could get the vote as the best two-way player among frontcourt players.

It looked for so long that Giardi’s strategy geared to Harris would work for the second straight game, his box-and-1 defense (and later an effective triangle-and-2 geared to both Clifford and Allen) using enough bodies to clog up Harris’s scoring space.

Devan had five points at the half and only eight after three quarters, when the game was tied at 34 and when it appeared the Falcons were going to suffer their first loss because primarily of their offensive complacency to settle for the three-point shot. I don’t know how many the Falcons took, but I would guess 25.

That statistic (whatever the accurate number) may inspire the Danvers coaching staff to create novel ways to maximize the 1-2 inside offensive punch of the 6-10 Merry and the 6-4 Harris, while at there same time innovating to gain better offensive operating room for Clifford to either fire away or use his underrated penetration moves.

The fourth quarter is when Danvers coach John Walsh was able to exploit the triangle-and-2 Header defense, getting Harris the ball opposite either side of the foul line with just enough room to operate for the “trey” or a move to the basket, that nine-point streak coming as he rode with four fouls.

It didn’t hurt that Marblehead scored only once from the time it was 44-all with 2:25 remaining, that coming on Spencer Craig’s three-pointer (he made several en route to a 15-point night). The Headers missed six shoots, on two three-shot sequences in the same trip down the floor, in the final half-minute.

The Danvers defensive pressure deserves acclaim once again for holding a strong offensive team to a low point total and a poor shooting percentage, though there were times when Marblehead got the upperhand.

Marblehead players lost more than the game. They lost their composure down the stretch in more ways than one, most disturbingly with their lack of sportsmanship.

As for the Falcons, another history-making season continues, a glorious journey for the players, coaching staff and fans. The kind of season that NEVER would have been imagined six years ago, and here we are: a fourth straight Northeastern Conference Small title, the clinching of a share of the mythical NEC overall tittle (a win at NEC Large champ Lynn English next Wednesday will clinch the titler outright); a chance at a fourth straight 20-win season and a shot at a third state title. A first-time unbeaten regular season (21-0 is also within the realm, but all four contests ahead loom as major challenges.

The 21st and final game is slated for Thursday at 12:30 at Rockland.

Let the challenges come forth. The Falcons will be ready to give it their best shot after a wonderfully satisfying win at Marblehead.



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