Danvers Boys Cagers Shine In Defeat; Lose to Malden Catholic At Buzzer, 61-60

Greatness comes in many forms. Monday night, for the relentless and unyielding Danvers High boys basketball team, greatness came in the form of a heartbreaking 61-60 defeat to Malden Catholic in the final of the Saugus Christmas tournament. A defeat in which the Falcons played like champions.

In losing, the Falcons dropped to 4-2 record-wise (the losses by a combined 3 points), but they also gained a tremendous amount of respect from their followers and other observers who might have been scouting the defending MIAA Division 2 state champs and four-time defending Northeastern Conference kings.

From this vantage point, the Falcons, relegated to a three-man offense (until Mike Nestor made a super-clutch 3-pointer with 55 seconds left to knot the game at  57-57), grew by leaps and bounds as a team with championship potential. Outmanned by a Catholic Conference entry led by 6-foot, 4-inch Jonah St. Clair (28 points, 18 of his team’s first 22), the Falcons took on the Lancers nose to nose in what turned into a heavyweight battle.

Both teams played muscular man-to-man defense the whole game, on occasion switching to presses and traps. As they had done in beating Wakefield the night before, the Falcons took very good care of the ball (10 turnovers to MC’s 11). In the first half they in fact took it to MC offensively despite St. Clair’s unstoppable penetrations to the basket from the interior and the baseline.

Powered by 7-for-12 three-point shooting the first half (but only 11-for-28 for the game), the Falcons led 8-2 early and 29-22 late in the second quarter before MC closed to 29-27 at intermission.

It looked like the Falcons might carry through to victory with another spectacular three-point performance. Rashad “Rudy” Francois hit four of five three attempts the first half en route to a 19-point game.  Malden Catholic played catch up most of the first half, while the Falcons were stuck in that role most of the last 10 minutes, but gallantly battled back.

Keyed by a herculean effort by junior Devonn Allen (18 of his 26 points after intermission), Danvers rallied from a 46-39 deficit late in the third quarter to close within 48-46 with 6:53 left, then came back from 53-46 down with 4:00 remaining to within 57-54 (after an Allen power drive down the lane in heavy traffic) with 1:46 left.

Allen could have been whistled for his fourth foul on that play, since he collided with St. Clair under the basket, but there was no whistle. St. Clair hit the floor hard, however and left the game, not to return, with a banged up shoulder. Turns out MC could bail out without him.

But not before Nestor hit his only points of the night from the right corner to tie it at 57 with 55 seconds left after a clutch offensive rebound and feed by Tre Crittendown (12 points). MC took the lead on a drive to the basket with 33 seconds left (MC scored on nine layups of one form or another the first half, the same number the second half; the lone defensive aspect in which the Falcons could be faulted), setting the stage for a pulsating closing half minute.

The Falcons may have been overly deliberate the final 33 seconds, passing up a clean three, then luckily getting an out-of-bounds call under the basket with 16 seconds left. That set up Nestor’s inbounds pass into the lane which was deflected, but somehow grabbed by Francois and tossed basket ward as he fell to floor. The ball amazingly went in off the glass as he was fouled. He made the foul shot with 12 seconds left to give Danvers its first lead, 60-59, since 39-36.

After a timeout, MC brought the ball down against a Danvers press. Cam Kelly, a 6-2 guard, got off a clean three-pointer from atop the key and the ball jumped in, then out, at which point Curt Philpot, who’d scored only two points, grabbed the rebound on the left side and quickly put the ball back up off the glass, a nano-second, but clearly before the buzzer, for the dramatic MC victory.

Yes, a crushing defeat for the dogged Falcons, but one which showed their solid gold heart; one which displayed their ever-burgeoning talent, their never-say-die attitude and potential for great things once their season resumes with a home game against NEC foe Beverly next Tuesday, January 5, at 7 p.m.

They deserved better Monday night, but MC got off the last punch, right to DHS’s jaw, in the form of a buzzer-beating shot that won the game.

This is a wonderfully exciting team, this Falcon crew upholding the unprecedented winning tradition established under the leadership of coach John Walsh these last five-plus years. Can’t wait for Game 7 on January 5. They’re going to win a track-load of games.Maybe 15. Maybe more.


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