BEVERLY, Mass. –- When it comes to tournament basketball, experience is invaluable.
Even with the move from Division 3 to Division 2 this season, after winning back-to-back D3 state titles in 2012-13, Danvers certainly has that advantage. That was evident in their 62-59 win over sixth-seeded Belmont, in a Division 2 North semifinal at Beverly High School Wednesday night.
In a game where the Falcons trailed by seven early in the fourth quarter and went basket-for-basket with the Marauders in the final few minutes, Danvers was able to make clutch free throws along with a few key defensive stops down the stretch enabling them to top the pesky Marauders.
“These kids just played hard. It wasn’t a coaching thing and we just played harder, we just played hard enough,” Danvers coach John Walsh said. “It’s all about them. They just persevered and got through it with some big plays.”
After two straight Danvers hoops, Belmont senior captain Keith Burns drained a three-pointer from the left wing, giving Belmont a 59-58 lead with 50 seconds remaining. Danvers didn’t panic, as senior Kieran Beck was able to get to the free throw line and calmly knocked them both down to give the Falcons a 60-59 lead with 27.3 ticks left.
Belmont got a good look at a three on the following possession, which rimmed out. Devan Harris was then fouled with 12.4 seconds left and he hit 1-of-2 free throws -- giving the Marauders another chance down 61-59, where they saw another three-point attempt fall off the mark in Belmont’s last gasp.
“That’s a terrific basketball game,” Belmont coach Adam Pritchard said. “They hit some big free throws and really hurt us on the boards, they’ve been doing that all year. They played to their strengths, we played to our strengths and rebounding and offensive put backs were probably the difference in the game. For us if we make a timely shot here or there maybe we have a different result.”
Rebounding was certainly a major difference in the game, which led to Harris having another monster game for Danvers as he used his size in the paint to his advantage and finished with 35 points and 20 rebounds. Fellow big man Peter Merry added 10 points in the win.
“He’s obviously a terrific high school player,” Pritchard said of Harris. “When you have a size advantage like that in high school it certainly shows up. He did a great job.”
The Marauders were put in a tough spot late in the third when 6-foot-4 junior Adam Kleckner picked up his fourth foul on an offensive foul. Then on the following possession he picked up his fifth, forcing him from the game with 1:03 remaining in the third.
It was a tough call for Pritchard to keep him in the game, but he backed the decision afterwards.
“Our big guy got his fifth foul and we kind of wonder now should we have taken him out,” he said. “We’ve taken him out before and it’s cost us so we went with him. It happened in the first round and we actually went on a run with him out.”
Belmont led 45-43 entering the fourth and then went on a 5-0 in just over 30 seconds forcing Danvers to call a timeout. The Falcons regained their composure and went on a 6-0 run of their own to get right back in the game.
“The kid hit a three and we called time out and just went over something quickly that I thought we could change,” Walsh said. “I don’t even know if it mattered, we just played harder. We tried to spread it out more, like a box and Devan Harris was able to clean up on the back side.”
The adjustment certainly paid dividends as Harris finished with 13 fourth quarter points.
Burns led Belmont with 14 points, followed by sophomore Matthew Kerans who added 13, while junior Benjamin Lazenby had 12 in the losing effort.
Even though Belmont’s season came to an abrupt end, it was still a good run for a team that finished with just four wins a season ago.
“We’re coming off a 4-16 season. From 4-16 to here, we’re extremely proud of our guys and we’re maybe a basket or two away from making it to the North final so that is a credit to our players,” Pritchard said. “They worked really hard and hopefully they will work harder moving forward.”
Danvers moves on to the Division 2 North final Saturday at Tsongas Arena against the winner of Thursday's other semifinal between Lynn Classical and top seed New Mission.
BUILDING A WINNING PROGRAM
With the win, Danvers advances to its third straight North final. Even though many of the players currently on the roster didn’t play much in those games, learning from former teammates certainly has played a major factor.
“We just preach mental toughness all the time and I think these kids are very mentally tough,” Walsh said. “They know what it is about. They had such wonderful role models like Eric Martin, Nick McKenna, John Amico, George Merry, Danny Connors, all those kids will do anything to win. Those kids were such good role models and that’s why I think we’re a program that is establishing it’s self.”
Moving up divisions this year, Walsh really didn’t know what to expect. Making it to the North final once again is a surprise even to him.
“We didn’t expect this,” he said. “We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t set goals. We just wanted to make the tournament, that’s the only goal we had.”