BEVERLY — Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Beverly High boys basketball team in the first half last night.
Smothered by Salem’s zone defense while lacking any defensive answers their own, the Panthers faced a 20-point deficit after 16 minutes of action. If ever Beverly head coach Scott Lewis needed a special speech, this was the night.
“There really wasn’t much to say,” Lewis said. “We were kind of all just disgusted, including the coaches. All I said was that we had to get it possession by possession and get it back to 10 by the end of the third. It was a huge crowd and all it takes is a couple threes or a dunk to get the crowd into it.
“It was a momentum swing in our favor — and Salem couldn’t get it back.”
Beverly dug in on defense and senior forward Nick Cross took care of the threes and the dunk. Cross caught fire, hitting shots from all over the court, and led Beverly to a memorable 62-56 comeback win over Salem.
Cross scored 23 of his game-high 26 points in the second half, including 16 in the third quarter when Salem’s lead shrunk from 39-19 to 46-43.
“That was a special half for him. I certainly would have liked to be a spectator watching that rather than the opposing coach,” Salem (11-3) coach Tom Doyle said. “He hit some really tough shots with guys hanging all over him.”
Cross struggled with his shot in the first half, but he kicked off the second half by drilling back-to-back 3-pointers. By the time he connected on his third three of the quarter, Salem’s lead was down to 12 and Cross’ confidence was swelling.
He added two free throws, a soft pull-up jumper and another three before the quarter was over. Beverly (10-7) made it a one-possession game heading into the fourth when John Berchoff saved the ball under the basket to Zach Duguid, who laid it in as time expired.
“I don’t even know what happened in the third,” Lewis said. “We talked about getting it down to 10 by the end of the third and I think we had it down to three. It was crazy.”
It was crazy how Beverly resurrected itself from the ashes. Salem held the Panthers to just two points in the second quarter, both coming from the free throw line. But the home team that came out for the second half looked like one that had been embarrassed and was seeking retribution.
“We locked them down,” Cross said. “We came out and played a lot better defense, started boxing out and getting rebounds and running. We got open shots and started hitting them.”
Salem junior forward Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez hit a variety of mid-range jumpers and finished some offensive rebounds to score 14 points in the first half. Beverly kept him off the glass in the second half, though; Martinez-Rodriguez finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Rashad Keys, meanwhile, scored nine points in the first half for Salem and was held scoreless after intermission. Likewise, Jamie Dominguez had eight points at the break, but managed only three in the second half.
“Just everything seemed to go their way in the second half,” Doyle said. “They were getting the bounces that we were getting in the first half, and they were playing that much harder than us in the second half.”
David Kazadi (14 points, 13 rebounds) scored inside early in the fourth quarter to keep Salem’s lead at three points (48-45), but Cross had a steal and a dunk then buried a three to give Beverly its first lead since early in the first quarter.
Cross knocked down a pretty turnaround jumper on the right baseline with 4:14 to go to give the Panthers a 54-51 lead and Chris Sinclair (15 points) made four free throws down the stretch to clinch it.
Berchoff added 11 points for Beverly.
“We really were struggling with injuries (earlier this season) and everyone was down. We felt like we maybe lost a couple games we shouldn’t have lost,” Lewis said. “The other day against Lynn Classical we had a breakthrough win. We’ve had a couple good days of practice, and we’re getting back to what we want to do offensively and defensively. To do this against Salem on this court in front of a big crowd is a big confidence builder.”