This was not the way the Danvers High boys basketball team wanted to end its defense of the Division 2 state title it won last March. But visiting Brighton took advantage of its depth, defensive quickness and rebounding advantages in tsunami-like fashion in the second half Saturday afternoon in their North section quarterfinal battle in the near-capacity DHS field house.
The result was a convincing 74-62 Brighton victory, moving the Boston school into the semifinal round next mid-week against the winner of Monday’s Wakefield at Salem meeting. The win not only gained revenge for last year’s 65-58 Danvers decision in the semifinal round at Woburn, but snapped the Falcons’ 30-game homecourt win streak as well.
The Falcons, who surprised everyone but themselves by winning the Northeastern Conference Large Division title in its first year moving up from the NEC Small, thus finish another remarkable season at 18-5, the fifth straight year they have won at least 18 games and won an NEC division title.
Of course it’s a letdown after last year’s once-in-a-lifetime 27-0 state championship run. But to win 18 games and the NEC Large when “the experts” projected the Blue to win 12, 13 games at best, well, this has been one superb campaign.
We thought the season might still be alive when the Falcons owned a 42-29 lead over Brighton midway through th third quarter after Rashad “Rudy” Francois (17 points, tops for DHS) canned a three-pointer from the left side.
But at that stage Brighton got its offense untracked and started to get results from its fullcourt press. Danvers led by six at 48-42, but Brighton ran off the last nine points in the last 1:19 of the quarter and led, 51-48, entering the fourth. Devonn Allen (11) and Francois responded with three-pointers to open the fourth to tie the score at 50 and 53, but from that juncture Brighton turned on the jets and pulled away, though Danvers trailed by only 63-59 with three minutes left. The Falcons got no closer as fatigue, erratic passing and shooting doomed their bid for victory.
The Falcons could not have played with more heart nor effort for 32 minutes, but Brighton had too many horses. They played fresher, stronger and quicker the second half, sparked by Jordan Galloway’s (No. 4) 19 points, Tyrone Perry (No. 11) and Jerrod Clark No. 12) each with 13 and Izaiah Winston-Brooks (No. 13) with 12.
“They were the better defenders, the better rebounders and the better shooters the second half,” conceded senior forward Francois, whose two-way brilliance figured mightily in Danvers’ 18 wins. “We wanted more, but we just didn’t have the push we needed the fourth quarter; didn’t quite have the energy we needed.
“But this won’t take away from a great three years here. We’ve been a family and we’ve had our times, most of all the perfect record last year.”
Trey Crittendon gave the Falcons a big boost with 12 of his 14 points coming in the first half, much of which was played without mate Allen, who was saddled with two early fouls. Mike Nestor had one of his best offensive games of the year with 11 points, nine coming on three treys, and Tahg Coakley played big off the bench with eight points. Inside man Kieran Moriarty did not score but still had one of his finest defensive/rebounding games against a variety of bigger Brighton bangers.
“Brighton deserved this one,” said Danvers coach John Walsh, who finishes his sixth season with a 23-3 tournament record and a 123-24 overall mark. His record the last five years: 110-14.
“We had the upper hand for a while and outplayed them into the third quarter (when Brighton scored a shocking 28 points against one of the best defensive units on the North Shore),” he added. “But Brighton’s that good, the way they got rolling and never let up on us. The had shooters, defenders, rebounders. We couldn’t quite keep up.”
Walsh knows he was playing with fire this year, using primarily a six-man rotation. Of course, that’s what he used last year with zero serious injuries allowed, but last year he also had an all-world frontcourt with stupendous size. This year he went without any serious injury all season again (except for a two-game absence for Allen).’
But against a team that boasted 10 athletic, cat-quick players, all of whom could shoot and press, the six-player rotation was not able to hold up. It also didn’t help that the Falcons committed an uncharacteristic eight fourth quarter turnovers and did not make a field goal in the last 4:35. When the usually-reliable Francois missed two straight threes and Allen missed one soon thereafter, all occurring at 59-63, we had a sinking feeling.
But WHAT A SEASON!! Four nailbiting, down-to-the-wire losses in regular season based on a combined 10 points. a Clutch win late season at Lynn Classical. Winning two gutsy games at Holliston to win the Keough Tournament, then the last-game victory at Peabody that earned the Falcons the NEC Large title. How sweet it was.
A terrific opening game comeback tourney win here the other night over Melrose, then the season-closer against Brighton.
“It’s been a great year,” Walsh said. “Our first goal was to qualify for the state tournament. To win the Conference Large was a wonderful a achievement by the kids. I can’t tell you how proud I am of them. I could not have asked for more. What effort, what determination, what commitment. They’ve made a large contribution to the Danvers winning tradition we’ve created here these last six winters. I just feel bad their season had to end like this. I just hope they’re as proud of what they’ve accomplished as we coaches are. They deserve all the credit.
So another chapter in what has developed into the greatest run by a high school boys basketball team in North Shore history is over. But it should be celebrated here in Danvers for years and years to come.
Thanks coaches. Thanks players, led by Captains. Francois, Crittendon, Nestor and Allen. There’s a good nucleus returning in Moriarty, Allen and Coakley, with Justin Roberto expected to step in next year. Who else will join them? Tune in next December.
Gentlemen, thanks for the memories.
An exhilarating season filled with memorable victories of every nature,