DHS Boys Cagers Near Perfect; Rout Malden Catholic, 79-59, for First-ever 19-0 Record and Comcast-Arbella Classic Division 2 Title; Merry Named To All-Star Team With Tourney MVP Allen

It loomed as a close contest for the Comcast-Arbella Classic Division 2 tournament title Tuesday at Newton North High School. But the close-to-peaking Danvers High Falcons played their finest two-way game of the year against a quality opponent and mauled Malden Catholic, 79-59, giving them a program-record 19-0 regular season mark.

The masterful victory, in which five Falcons were in double figures and Peter Merry was named to the all-tourney team with teammate and tourney MVP Devonn Allen, sets the stage for a third major battle in as many nights, this one at 14-2 Lynn English Wednesday at Lynn (7 p.m. start), with either the Falcons clinching a third straight mythical Northeastern Conference title with a win or sharing the mythical title with a loss. English has already won the NEC Large once again, while the Falcons won the NEC Small for a fourth straight year and are looking for a fourth straight best overall NEC record.

The Falcons, hitting a stunning 10-for-22 three-point field goal attempts, similar in percentage, maybe somewhat better than what they shot the previous day in beating Bishop Feehan, 60-56, turned a 20-14 one quarter advantage against MC into a 44-25 halftime runaway, powered by a balanced offense and a strong-willed man-to-man defense that forced Catholic Conference representative MC (11-6) into seven first half turnovers and a poor shooting night from start to finish.

The Falcons, operating effectively in every aspect of the game, from shooting to ball-hawking to rebounding, never let up in the second half. Senior Vinny Clifford followed his 5-for-8 three-point accuracy against Feehan with a 4-for-7 outing against MC. That’s 9-for-18 in the two games after being shut out at Marblehead last Thursday. Most high school players would beg, borrow and steal to shoot like that from inside the arc, never mind from behind. But Clifford currently is honing in from extra deep range like never before this season.

Coach John Walsh showed just how much confidence he has in his quartet of reliable three-point shooters (Clifford, Allen, Devan Harris and Rashad Francois) by running most of his first half set plays geared to the open three, and they got them with terrific results. How often have you seen a high school coach run set play after set play with the ultimate goal either an open three (often launched) or a feed inside to the 6-10 pivot (Merry)?

Clifford finished with 14 points, Allen 10 (2-for-3 from 3-point land), sixth man Rashad Francois had 12 (2-for-6 in treys), Harris added 15 (12 in the second half after sitting much of the first half with foul trouble) and Merry added inside scoring balance with Harris’s with 19 points in one of his finest two-way games of the season. That’s five players in doubles, a rare feat.

All in all, it was a breathtaking showing. For so many weeks spoiled Danvers fans, including this one, had fretted that the Falcons were playing only to the level of their opponent, had gotten lucky in a few of the close wins against the better NEC rivals, and might stumble badly as they wrap up the regular season schedule against some major challenges.

Wrong. The Falcons have risen to the occasion their last three toughies and today scaled a new height not before reached this season. They play like this against English and in the tournament they’ll have a good shot at making it to the state Division 2 final at Worcester March 14.

It should be added that Walsh had perfect command from the bench for a second straight outing, this observer’s only concern being that he kept his front liners in the game too far into the fourth quarter.

This game may prove to be the game that showed everyone, including the Falcons themselves, that they may be destined for even bigger things come tournament time.

Wednesday’s English showdown will hopefully give us more encouraging signs. But to this point, the Falcons have been an extraordinary team led by an exciting two-way point guard in Allen, three game-changing captains in Merry, Clifford and Harris, a defensive demon in Mike Nestor and a sixth man, Francois, who return to brilliant form against Malden Catholic. Add third guard Tre Crittendon’s steadier play too the mix and the Falcons may just be the team to beat in Division 2.

But first they’d like to take care of business at Lynn and Rockland.





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