Danvers High Hoop Falcons, Powered By Vastly Improved Defense and Allen-Francois Scoring Tandem, Rally Past Natick, 66-54; Advance To Keough Tourney Final At Holliston Monday at 5:30

The vaunted Danvers High boys’ man-to-man defense, after struggling the last two games, cranked it up in the fourth quarter Sunday at Holliston High, overtaking Natick, 66-54, and advancing to the Keough Invitational title game Monday at 5:30 against Framningham.

That was assured after Framingham beat host Holliston in the second semifinal game Sunday, 71-44, earning the victors their tournament-clinching 10th win of the season.

The 14-4 Falcons, whose usually destructive defense showed some leaks this past week in giving up 63 points at Lynn Classical (still won, 68-63) and Beverly the next night (a 68-66 defeat), got their usually efficient man-defense back in gear when it mattered most against a nine-win Natick squad that outshot Danvers, 8-3, from beyond the three-point arc.

Danvers struggled to keep Natick close, trailing the Red Hawks, 44-43, after three quarters, despite the fact they had committed twice as many turnovers at Danvers (18-9) heading into the decisive final eight minutes.

But cranking the pressure defense up a notch, the Falcons forced seven turnovers in the first four minutes, took a 55-49 lead on a Rashad Francois follow-up  after a steal at the same checkpoint and the defending Division 2 state champs never looked.

It was a five-player parlay that created such a major turnaround powered by the defense, and it was primarily a Devonn Allen-Francois combo that carried the offense. Francois finished with 15 points, igniting the fourth quarter charge with an all-the-way steal-layup in the first 10 seconds of the session. Francois followed that with a nifty pass setting up Mike Nestor (11 points, 9 rebounds) for another basket and the Falcons were on the way, starting a fresh win streak after Beverly snapped their eight-gamer Thursday by the narrowest of margins.

It was the multi-talented, junior point/wing/center-jumper Allen who made the biggest impact at crunch time, scoring 11 fourth quarter points and the Falcons’ last nine points in the game. That run of nine, running from 57-51 (following a beautiful floater in the lane by Trey Crittendon (9 points) to the final score with one minute remaining, was supported by the aforementioned Danvers defense that limited Natick to five points and no field goals over the final five  minutes.

Welcome back, the Falcons’ stingy when-it-counts-most defense.

“The defense was certainly better than our last two games,” a smiling coach John Walsh conceded afterward. “We had our most success just playing straight up man-on-man, so we may have to rely on that pretty much from here. And we;ll need to be better than this tomorrow night after watching Framingham beat Holliston but good.”

But let the Falcons enjoy this one at least until they awaken Monday and eventually climb on the bus for the 85-minute trip to Holliston for Game 19 Monday.

This was a terrific bounce back game after Thursday’s heartbreaking defeat at Beverly. Though they suffered another horrendous three-point shooting nine (4-23), there were plenty of big offensive plays.

Start with a strong opening quarter in which they led 15-6 before Natick hit a trey six seconds before the buzzer. It was 18-10 early in the second before the Falcons seemed to go into an offensive funk, going nearly five minutes without a field goal until Kieran Moriarty, playing one of his best defensive games, put in a rebound off a Nestor miss and super shooting sub Justin Roberto swished a trey with 11 seconds left.  That kept the Falcons within two at the half, 31-29, but still looking vulnerable to an upset.

The Falcons struggled again in the third, and after Natick hit its seventh three to lead 39-33, things did indeed look shaky.

But after shooting 2-for-13 to begin the third, the Danvers offense woke up. The Falcons scored four field goals on four shots, two of those buckets on beautiful Francois penetration moves, another on an Allen three from deep left (assist to Francois) and the other a Nestor fastbreak layup off a steal. Despite shooting 3–20 in threes to this point, Danvers trailed by only one 44-43 entering the last quarter.

And then it was all Danvers as noted previously.

“A tremendous game for Devonn,” Walsh said. “Rudy (Francois) always is making good things happen. Hopefully we can do it Monday just like today. But Framingham looked awfully good. We’ll see.

If there was one negative from the affair, it was the moment your loyal blogger was wiped out by Allen as he tried saving a loose ball that went out of bounds in the second quarter while he was on defense. He dove into the stands for the ball and plowed into yours truly. Thankfully, both of us were able to resume our respective duties during the game, Devonn as a true hero, yours truly as a note-taker.






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