By Matt Jenkins
---- — SALEM — On any night it would have been difficult for the Salem boys basketball team to defeat Belmont.
On this night, in a Division 2 North quarterfinal game, it would have taken a near-perfect performance from the Witches.
The Marauders played sharp defense all over the court, got out in transition when the opportunity presented itself, and ran sharp offensive sets in the halfcourt to knock out the Witches, 71-52.
Salem (17-5) also had a major hole in its lineup, playing without senior forward Rashad Keys who was not in uniform and not on the Salem bench due to what coach Tommy Doyle called an “internal discipline matter.”
”It changes something and it’s something we haven’t worked on,” Doyle said about playing without Keys. “It gives some other guys some minutes that usually haven’t been playing. Guys played hard tonight and I’m very, very proud of the way we played. We just didn’t execute and things didn’t go our way.”
Belmont (18-6) will now play Danvers in the semifinals tomorrow night (7 p.m.) at Beverly.
Salem kept the game tight for most of the first half, but the Marauders ended the half on a 9-3 run that pushed their lead to 11 (35-24) at the break.
Salem struggled with turnovers throughout the first half, some forced by Belmont’s defense and others coming from the Witches either rushing or trying to force passes into small spaces.
”It was a combination,” Doyle said about the reasons for his team’s turnovers. “For some reason this year we struggled with pressure. That was kind of our Achilles Heal that we’ve been trying to work on all year. Some games we get better at it and some other games we certainly struggled and we struggled early tonight. That kind of put us in a little bit of a hole.”
The Witches also had to deal with senior center David Kazadi getting into foul trouble. He picked up three fouls in the first half and earned his fourth in the third quarter.
”It’s huge. David is key piece of our puzzle; that’s why we play a zone a lot of the times, to try to hide him and keep him out of foul trouble. Unfortunately, tonight it was something that we couldn’t avoid,” Doyle said. “It played a key factor, but Belmont really executed well and had a great game plan.”
Kazadi’s foul trouble opened the door for Belmont junior center Adam Kleckner to get free under the hoop. He led all scorers with 21 points, but Belmont could also attack from the perimeter. The Marauders hit 10 3-pointers for the game.
Sophomore guard Matt Kerans buried four triples for Belmont and finished with 19 points.
Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez and Jamie Dominguez each scored 15 points for Salem, but the Witches couldn’t make a significant run in the second half.
Senior guard Shaky White also hit double figures for Salem with 11 points.
Belmont’s win sets up what should be an excellent semifinal matchup with Danvers.
”I know they’re a very good team,” Belmont coach Adam Pritchard said. “They’ve got some size, they run a lot of sets, kind of like us, and they’ve got kids that have experienced a state championship and we’d like to try to get them to experience something different.”
Belmont 71, Salem 52
Belmont: Lazenby 2-2-7, Kerans 7-1-19, Burns 4-0-11, Hinton 2-0-4, Croce 1-0-3, Kleckner 9-2-21, Wagner 2-0-4, Phillips 1-0-2. Totals 28-5-71.
Salem: White 4-1-11, Dominguez 6-0-15, Kazadi 2-0-4, Nunez 2-0-5, Martinez-Rodriguez 6-3-15, Perpetuo 1-0-2. Totals 21-4-52.
Halftime: Belmont, 35-24.
3-pointers: B, Kerans 4, Burns 3, Lazenby, Croce, Kleckner; S, Dominguez 3, White 2, Nunez.
Records: B, 18-6; S, 17-5