By Dan Harrison
---- — BOSTON — The final moments of last night’s Division 3 boys basketball state semifinal at the TD Garden between Martha’s Vineyard and Danvers were filled with tension and desperation.
With a trip to the state finals in Worcester on the line, the Vineyarders rushed and forced their offense while the Falcons drew on their experience from last year.
In the most anxious instances in the game, the defending Division 3 state champions Falcons remained calm, confident and patient and pulled out the 50-47 win.
Danvers will play Western Mass. champion Smith Academy (22-3) Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester in an attempt to become the first North Shore basketball team to win back-to-back state crowns.
“We’ve been here before. We knew it was all about patience and playing your game and not diverting from that,” said Danvers senior captain Nick McKenna (11 points), who drained two free throws with 4.7 seconds left to seal the win. “If you stick to the game plan and run plays and sets — we have millions of plays — and stick to it, you know
you’re going to get good looks and open shots.”
Martha’s Vineyard head coach Michael Joyce didn’t think it was nerves, but felt his boys simply rushed shots and possessions while the Falcons (23-2) looked poised and ready for the big moment.
The Vineyard actually took a two-point lead with 2:47 to play, but shot themselves in the foot on big possessions. It had six of its 16 turnovers in the final quarter.
“You could tell (Danvers is) a team that’s very patient and makes few mistakes. You’re not going to get them to turn the ball over 10-15 times,” said Joyce. “Down the stretch in those last 2 1/2-3 minutes we got up two and had the ball. I think we just rushed it a little bit. It was more going too fast than nerves.”
Senior captain Danny Connors (10 points) knows about being calm. He had four fourth quarter points for Danvers and grabbed a crucial defensive rebound with the game tied, 43-43, with two minutes left. Connors struggled shooting free throws early in the regular season, but knocked down both of his freebies after he was fouled on the rebound to give Danvers a lead it would not surrender.
Connors also grabbed a defensive rebound after the Vineyard’s Navardo Anderson couldn’t convert a layup with 30 seconds left and Danvers ahead by four and quickly outletted the ball to McKenna — the Falcons’ best free throw shooter.
The one time the Falcons did rush in the fourth quarter was out of necessity. Ahead by two in the final two minutes, McKenna had to give the ball up to fellow senior captain Eric Martin at the foul line with just two seconds left on the shot clock. Martin quickly heaved the ball at the basket, and it hit back-iron and sank through the nylon to put Danvers ahead by four points with 90 seconds left.
“Nick McKenna had the ball kind of on the wing. He just looked at me and threw it. He said, ‘Shoot!’ so I just caught it, turned and kind of just threw it,” said Martin. “Thank God it went in.”
Izak Browne (17 points) was the only real scoring threat for Martha’s Vineyard in the first half, but was held to just three points in the final two quarters. Leading scorer Jack Roberts didn’t record a bucket in the first half but erupted for 12 points in the second half. However, outside of some sporadic second half scoring from Brandon Watkins, the South champs had no other real scoring threat.
Both teams had trouble rebounding the ball on the defensive side. However, Danvers solved the problem at halftime while Martha’s Vineyard, which rebounded well in the first half, gave up too many second chance opportunities thereafter as the Falcons’ Nick Bates (12 points) established himself on the offensive glass. Kieran Beck too grabbed a big offensive rebound to extend a Danvers possession late in the game.
“We started designating guys to box out certain people to free up Bates,” said Danvers head coach John Walsh. “Bates was getting caught boxing out and wasn’t able to rebound. (Bates) was the only kid who could jump with them and rebound, so we started designating Danny and the baseline guy to box out. It seemed to work.”
There were 13 lead changes in the game, including seven in the opening quarter. The two teams were tied, 24-24 at halftime.
agateHed:Danvers 50, Martha’s Vineyard 47
agate_boldCentered:Division 3 state semifinal
at TD Garden, Boston
agate_lineQuarters:Martha’s Vineyard: Roberts 4-2-12, Browne 7-0-17, Weston 0-1-1, Watkins 3-0-8, Thomas 1-1-3, Anderson 2-0-4, Araujo 0-0-0, James 1-0-2. Totals 18-4-47.
agate_lineQuarters:Danvers: Martin 3-0-6, Beck 0-0-0, Bates 4-4-12, Clifford 3-0-8, McKenna 2-6-11, Connors 4-2-10, Cawlina 1-0-3. Totals 17-12-50.
agate_lineQuarters:Halftime: Tied, 24-24.
agate_lineQuarters:3-pointers: MV, Browne 3, Roberts 2, Watkins; D, Clifford 2, McKenna, Cawlina.
agate_lineQuarters:Records: D, 23-2; MV, 18-6.