SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Sports

March 18, 2013

Matt Jenkins column: Clifford heats up at the right time for Danvers

WORCESTER — More than 10 quarters had passed since Vinny Clifford felt and looked comfortable shooting a basketball.

Typically a coldblooded 3-point sniper for the Danvers boys basketball team, Clifford’s smooth stroke had abandoned him in the Falcons’ North final win over Wayland and their state semifinal victory over Martha’s Vineyard at the TD Garden.

The Falcons were forced to grind out those wins, and it seemed like they were destined for another ugly slugfest with Smith Academy in Saturday afternoon’s Division 3 state final at the DCU Center.

Clifford was 0 for 6 — 0 for 3 on 3-pointers — through the first two quarters and seemingly losing confidence with each misfire.

Then late in the third quarter, Clifford hit one ... and, as he is prone to do, kept hitting them.

Clifford buried his final four shots — three triples and one long jumper — to guide Danvers to a 66-50 victory that made it two straight state titles for the Falcons.

“I had been shooting bad all game. It felt good to finally hit a shot,” Clifford said. “I haven’t been shooting the ball good the last few games, so I was just trying to focus on what I’ve been doing all year.”

The shooting slump was clearly weighing heavily on the sophomore before he broke the ice. He became hesitant to shoot, and his normally crisp passes started lacking zip. But as his confidence cooled, his coaches’ and teammates’ encouragement grew.

“We always tell him to shoot. No matter what, keep shooting through the bad streaks,” said teammate Nick Bates, who finished with 12 points and 17 rebounds. “Vinny came out in the second half, I took him aside myself and told him to keep shooting because they were going to fall and we needed him right now. Every time he hits a 3, it’s a big momentum swing.”

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