Trailing 10-0 and later 20-3 in a disastrous opening quarter at Salem High Friday night, the Danvers High boys basketball team displayed the kind of heart that makes a champion the rest of the way. Overcoming all but two points of that gigantic deficit by the third quarter and staying with the undefeated (now 8-0) Witches the rest of the way, only an ice cold final three minutes prevented the visiting Falcons from coming all the way back, the result a 69-63 defeat in the SHS field house.
Now 5-3, 4-2 in the Northeastern Conference, the Falcons could not completely make up for a nine turnover first quarter that included a frightful 2-for-10 inaccuracy from three point land. Combined with an 18-point first half by dynamo Salem senior guard Alex Sanchez (18 points, 29 for the game) and 11 of his 14 for sophomore Ricky Arias, the pair of lightning quick Salem guards were simply too tough for Danvers to contain, whether they played their vaunted chest-to-chest man defense or floating zone.
For all the quickness the Falcons show against most teams, they were outquicked in this one, although they had every opportunity to pull out the game in the second half.
From a 24-9 hole after one quarter, the Falcons offense got back in synch at least partially in the second quarter, keyed by three (of his 6 for the game) three-point bombs from Tre Crittendon and 11 points from Devonn Allen, the Falcons drew within 40-32 at halftime.
But it was evident that Allen, considered one of the very best all-around players in the Conference, was struggling with his offense and Rashad Francois, an electrifying offensive presence when he is “on,” was off (5 first half points, zip in the second half).
Nonetheless, the proud Falcons kept digging, forcing bad Salem shots or Salem turnovers (each team finished with 15 for the night, Danvers committed only 3 after intermission). Moreover, the Faklcons came out firing ICBMs in the third quarter. draining four three-point attempts in five shots (by Allen, Mike Nestor and Crittendon’s 2) and trailed only 45-43 three minutes into the session. Cruttendon hit his sixth of game later in the quarter to draw Danvers within 49-46y, but he would make no more.
Trailing 57-50 heading into the closing eight minutes, the Falcons kept climbing uphill, closing within 66-61 with 2:55 left on a dazzling penetration drive by Allen, finished off with a scoop shot, but then the visitors went stone cold, missed their next five shots, three of them good three-point bids, and Salem had survived.
At one point Danvers was 10-for-21 in threes, but finished 13 for 32, making only three of their last, forced up in some degree because of the inside shot blocking presence of Salem’s No. 35, Jhonel Roberts (10 points, 5 blocks, 8 rebounds). Joel Nunez (No. 10) who did an outstanding defensive job all night on Allen (though Devonn finished with 22, he shot 8 for 21 from the floor), was the other SHS double digit deliverer with 10. Nunez also influenced Allen into a significant number of turnovers and forced shots.
Because of Salem’s extraordinary quickness and leaping ability, Danvers coach John Walsh played virtually five men all night after the early Salem surge, Tahg Coakley taking over the No. 5 spot, and he did a commendable job, mixing it up with all of the Witches at one time or another on defense and hitting a big three in the second half.
Close but no cigar has been the tune in all three Danvers defeats, by two at Lynn English, one versus Malden Catholic in the Saugus Christmas tourney and now Friday night at Salem.
Playing such an intense game for 32 minutes from one end of the court to the other, the Falcons could easily have staggered to larger margin defeats in all three cases, but instead battled to the final second in each one and could have won all three. The Falcons are dealing with a fine line between victory and defeat in these tight finishes. But don’t be surprised if they figure the winning formula out in quick order.
I see the defending Division 2 state champs winning their next six, then entertaining Lynn English on February 2 and knocking the Bulldogs off as the Blue and White enjoy a terrific second half winning streak.
But first, Winthrop comes to town Tuesday at 7p.m., with the state championship banner being unveiled in special ceremony before the tipoff, probably around 6:55. See you there to support a wonderfully exciting and dedicated group of Falcons whose best is yet to come.