Smith Academy adjusted its defense to a triangle-and-two in the second half, chasing Nick McKenna and Bates all over the court while sitting in a three-man zone. When Danny Connors caught the ball in the post, the zone collapsed on him.
Danvers’ lead was only six points (38-32) when Clifford hit his first 3, but his Falcons’ teammates knew that could be enough to ignite their long-range specialist.
“If he takes his time and makes his first one, it’s a snowball effect; it just keeps rolling for him. He doesn’t miss once he gets going,” said McKenna, who led Danvers with 20 points.
“It’s pretty amazing to watch a kid who’s only a sophomore, so young. He still barely talks around us, and the kid’s hitting huge 3s in a state final. It was pretty cool to see.”
True to form, like a raw egg on a hot skillet, Clifford got warm quickly. Before Smith Academy had time to blink in the fourth quarter, Clifford had dropped two more 3s and another long jump shot off the dribble to push the lead to double digits.
The Falcons could taste the title repeat.
“We knew he was a shooter, we lost him and he made us pay a few times, which opened up the game,” Smith Academy coach Matthew Zerneri said. “We went to a triangle-and-two, and I thought that gave Danvers a lot of trouble. In the fourth quarter, he was able to come out and hit a couple shots, which knocked us back out of (the defense).
“Those shots were real big.”
Shut out through the first 21 minutes, Clifford finished with 11 points, joining the other four Danvers starters in double figures.
The Falcons’ players and coaches were rewarded for sticking with their sophomore shooter. They knew it for sure as they grabbed their second consecutive state title trophy on the DCU floor.