BEVERLY - One thing about the Beverly High boys basketball team has become abundantly clear: no matter how dire the situation, it doesn't back down against anybody.
Moreover, the Panthers seem to be at their best in crunch time.
In a game that had the feel and intensity of the state tournament, Beverly forced overtime by scoring the final seven points in regulation last night, then completely took over the extra session for a 70-63 triumph over Swampscott in the Northeastern Conference.
Beverly had to feel particularly good after this one. The Panthers beat a quality opponent - Swampscott is 9-5 - and also stretched their winning streak to seven games in hiking their record to 9-4.
"This is just huge for us," said Beverly senior forward/center Matt Tobin, who collected a season-high 24 points and 15 rebounds. "Swampscott has been playing well, so this is a big confidence booster for us."
Swampscott appeared to have matters under control when Ryan Squires, who played brilliantly and finished with 24 points, drilled a 3-pointer with 2:22 left in regulation to give his team a 59-52 advantage.
Beverly made all the clutch plays, however. Matt McQuaid (14 points, 10 rebounds) ignited the late comeback with a 3-pointer and Tobin, who was indefatigable and opportunistic underneath, scored with 1:11 left to cut it to 59-57. Tobin scored the tying basket with 28 seconds left and then the Panthers clamped down on defense, stopping the Big Blue on two separate possessions in the last 12 seconds to push it to overtime.
The momentum and the toughness carried over for Beverly in the extra session. Scott Leffler, who was an inside force for the Big Blue with 15 points, hit 1 of 2 foul shots for a 60-59 lead, but that was Swampscott's last lead. Tobin converted two buckets in a row to make it 63-60. Squires came back with a conventional 3-point play for 63-63, but McQuaid nailed a 3-pointer and Beverly closed it out with four free throws in the final 1:20.
"We settled for too many jump shots down the stretch," said Swampscott coach Paul Moran. "Beverly took it to the basket while we were taking 15-20 foot shots. When you do it the way Beverly did, you also end up at the foul line. Overall, I thought Leffler was tremendous for us and Tobin was spectacular for them."
The two teams seemed like sparring partners in the opening half, with neither club showing superiority, but the Big Blue went on an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter for a 45-35 lead.
Beverly coach Scott Lewis made a key move at that juncture, inserting senior guard Dean Littlefield, who got the Panthers back in it with a 3-pointer. Beverly just kept hanging around the rest of the way, creating the opportunity for the 7-0 spurt that closed out regulation.
"Our kids really wanted this one," said Lewis. "They've been hearing about how good Swampscott is and, yes, Swampscott has been playing well. But I think our kids feel they're good, too, and they played with a chip on their shoulder. It was like they wanted to turn it up a notch."
John Beaulieu (14) joined Squires and Leffler in double figures for Swampscott.
For Beverly, Nate Knudson contributed 10 points and sophomore guards Mike Clayton and Curtis Manuel combined for 15 points.
"The play of our sophomore guards is a factor (in Beverly's success)," said Lewis. "They defend well and they've been making plays."