Now we’re finding out just how good this Danvers High boys basketball team can be.
Playing for the first time without junior guard-forward Devonn Allen (bruised shoulder), arguably their best all-around player, the Falcons turned to their other top all-around player, senior forward Rashad “Rudy” Francois (16 points, 11 in the second half) to key them at both ends of the floor, and sophomore bomber Justin Roberto (15 points on five threes) broke through offensively. Combined with a terrific inside game against much bigger opponents from Mike Nestor (10) and Tahg Coakley, the Falcons rallied past Marblehead, 51-48, Friday night on Brad Sheridan Court in the MHS field house.
“These kids have been through these kinds of games before,” coach John Walsh (114-22 at Danvers) said after the Falcons rallied from an early 10-3 deficit to lead 26-25 at halftime, then charged again after trailing 39-31, keyed by clutch three-pointers midway through the final quarter from Francois, Nestor and Roberto, the latter’s making it 50-43 with 2:35 remaining.
“Danvers kids are tough kids. They can handle adversity. And the way they responded tonight, well, I’m very proud of them.”
Missing their first nine shots from the floor and hitting only two of 16 three-point shots the first half, the Falcons learned quickly what is was like to play without the injured Allen, whom many considered the MVP of their Division 2 state championship run last winter.
Combined with an effective box-and-1 defense on Tre Crittendon and a big edge in offensive rebounding, Marblehead felt it should have been in better shape instead of down one at intermissions.
But once again the Danvers nose-to-nose defense and ball-hawking strategy paid off. The Magicians committed nine turnovers by halftime to Danvers’s five, and at the final horn the difference was 19-6 in turnovers, a major credit to the Danvers “Dee.”
The Falcons also overcame another dismal three-point shooting performance team-wise, finishing this night making only 8 of 36. But the ones they made came at critical junctures, helping them get back in the game the first half and helping them pull ahead down the stretch.
For the super value that Nestor and Coakley delivered, what with Crittendon held to four points, the suddenly sensational Roberto and the eclectic Francois were the difference makers in the Falcons’ fourth straight victory.
Walsh has been saying all season that Roberto is going to break out with a big shooting night and tonight the backup guard delivered after missing his first three long rangers. He then proceeded to make three straight, all swishes from the left baseline, and Walsh had long last found himself a seventh man.
“Everyone on the team knows Justin can shoot it,” Walsh said. “Tonight he finally broke through. We’re happy for him and hope he can take it from here. We can always use another good shooter.”
Roberto now gives the Falcons, boasting a rotation of five guards, forward Nestor (and inside man Kieran Moriarty), six potential game-changers from beyond the arc.
Francois, meanwhile, endured a shaky first half (5 points) with a masterful all-around second half featuring timely offensive plays and several big rebounds and/or steals, the last theft the biggest one in the closing 30 seconds when Marblehead came down the floor trailing 50-47. Rudy’s steal led to a clinching Nestor foul shot.
The Falcons also need work at the foul line (5-for-12), as well as at making shots early in the two halves. They missed 6-of-7 field goals to open the second half.
All in all, though, a magnificent win — on the road — without the invaluable Allen. And after shaky starts to both halves. This group grew a foot taller collectively tonight and now look ahead to what should be easy wins next week, with or without Allen, at home against Swampscott and Revere, before hosting its third straight game the following Tuesday against Northeastern Conference Large leader Lynn English with first place in the Large on the line. The Falcons are still smarting from a two-point loss at English, during which they blew a 48-37 lead entering the final quarter.
Lots to look forward to in what has evolved into a fruitful 2015-16 season.