After Tuesday night’s 48-23 victory over Gloucester, the four-time defending Northeastern Conference champion Danvers High boys hoopsters have little to complain about. With an 8-3 record that very easily could be 10-1, even 11-0, the Falcons have much to be thankful for, but also much to shoot for, as they continue the second half of their regular season Friday at 4-8 Marblehead.
The two overriding issues for coach John Walsh, who has guided the Falcons to an extraordinary three state titles the last four years, center around the team’s disappointing three-point shooting, a staple of their championship runs, and finding help off the bench beyond sixth man Tahg Coakley.
Walsh, in his sixth season at the helm (an incredible, but true, 113-22), has three reliable three-point bombers in Tre Crittendon, Devonn Allen and Rashad Francois, but they have been frustratingly inconsistent, i.e. streaky like you wouldn’t believe. When on a roll, their long-range accuracy can carry the Falcons to big leads or overcome major deficits. But when they get cold, like at the end of the three narrow losses (by 2 at Lynn English, by 1 versus Malden Catholic, and by 6 at Salem last week), kaboom, they can’t make up for this significant shortcoming.
Another example: They were 6-for-11 from three-point land at one stage of the first half at Saugus last week, then shot an abysmal 7-for-43 at home against Gloucester last night.
Coakley and Mike Nestor can knock down threes, too, such as Coakley’s huge pair at Salem and Nestor’s clutch baseline “trey” in crunch time against Malden Catholic. But overall, so far in the three tight games, Danvers’s three-point marksmanship has not delivered.
Trailing Lynn Classical and Lynn English by only one game in the loss column in the NEC Large division, the Falcons can still win a fifth straight NEC divisional title. They still play at Classical and host English. A fifth straight NEC overall title (for best NEC record in both divisions), may be difficult since Salem reached the midway mark a perfect 10-0.
As for the Falcons’ other prime issue – getting more out of the bench players – Justin Roberto showed some progress in the Winthrop game, hitting three of four three-pointers in mop-up time. But other than that episode, he and Jordan DeDonato, the other likely relief off the bench, have not quite shown the efficiency Walsh needs to make them regular members of the playing rotation.
Walsh would love to give more of his regulars some rest time since they play such an intense form of man-to-man defense. But he’s not ready to make that commitment to playing time for his Nos. 7 and 8 men. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
The most beautiful aspect of this John Walsh-coached team, like all of his DHS teams: the boundless energy with which every player competes, be it a nailbiter or a blowout.
Now, a breakdown of how the “Super Six” and the Coach have fared after 11 games.
Devon Allen – Clearly the best all-around player on the team and unquestionably one of the top players in the NEC…he even jumps center on the opening taps and has won most of them…Streaky but almost always accurate (on the rim) three-point shooter, phenomenal penetrator, steady passer, superb defender and rebounder…capable of scoring 40 points in any kind of game, but not necessary based on the offensive support he has been getting from his teammates, especially Francois and Crittendon…He may on occasion try and do too much on his own offensively, but it appears Walsh designs those 1-on-1s much of the time and often they work out nicely.
Rashad “Rudy” Francois – The most athletic player on the team, capable of making a spectacular play anywhere on the court, offensively or defensively, on the floor or in the air…just hoping he is more consistent with his offensive play the second half of the season….capable of taking over a game single handedly…capable of making acrobatic plays when you least expect it… Won’t soon forget the off-balance, flip shot, three-point-play he made in heavy traffic in the lane with 12 seconds left giving the Falcons a one point lead against Malden Catholic.
Kenneth “Tre” Crittendon – Arguably the most improved player and currently, inarguably, the team’s most reliable long-range shooter filled with confidence from practically any distance beyond the arc…such a fitting description for a young man nicknamed “Tre.”…Deftly takes over the point for Allen when Walsh moves Allen to wing on offense…Has a great eye for finding the open teammate…Joins Allen and Francois in giving the Falcons a feared three-prong front line when zone or halfcourt trap pressing…the make a ton of steals or force a similar number of turnovers.
Mike Nestor – Another Falcon who has made major strides from a year ago when he was primarily a defensive stopper and rebounder…This year he is also a viable offensive option for powering his way to the basket or canning the jump shot, medium range or beyond the arc, as evidence by his 17-point showing at Lynn English that sparked a third-quarter surge and gave DHS an 11-point lead after three quarters…Continues as a terrific defensive player and board man.
Kieran Moriarty – Jumping into the middle of the fray as a starter this year, after seeing sporadic service a year ago, Kieran has done a commendable job as an inside defender and rebounder and has shown a soft touch with his mid-range jump shot, especially from the baseline. He is often the player replaced by Coakley when Walsh wants additional quickness in the lineup or when the Falcons are going to apply some form of defensive pressure from halfcourt or beyond.
Tahg Coakley – A multi-faceted sixth man who can play big or small, Tahg often comes in initially for Moriarty, Nestor or Francois. His quickj start and long strides serve him well at both ends of the floor. He can mix it up with the big men and hold his own and boasts the necessary quickness to pester effectively the opposition in “man” or “zone” situations.
Coach John Walsh – There is very little to quibble about regards Walsh’s coaching. Considering he’s dealing with a six-man rotation for the most part, his flexibility is limited but he’s found ways to give his offense and defense different looks. He is using his players’ quickness and high energy levels to full advantage. His conditioning program to get his players in peak shape and keep them there, sans injuries, has worked miracles. Check out how few injuries or missed games his regulars have experienced since he came on board. Remember that Vinny Clifford’s knee injury that kept him out his entire junior season occurred in the summer. My only wish: that John would yank his frontliners earlier in blowouts. He tends to keep his starters in the game far longer than necessary. Bottom line: As I have written before, Walsh is our Bill Belichick. The Patriots were lucky to acquire Bill’s services, just as DHS was lucky to acquire Walsh’s services.