By Nick Curcuru
---- — DANVERS — The Gloucester and Danvers boys basketball teams got together at Danvers High School Saturday night with first place in the Northeastern Conference Small on the line.
The matchup pitted the two-time defending conference and Division 3 state champion Falcons against a Gloucester team that has climbed the ladder over the last couple of seasons.
As it turned out, the Falcons were not ready to pass the NEC Small torch just yet, earning a hard-fought 76-63 win to remain perfect on the year at 5-0. The Fishermen picked up their first loss of the season, falling to 5-1.
Danvers rode an advantage down low to the victory as the front-court tandem of Devan Harris (game-high 29 points, 11 rebounds) and Peter Merry (15 points, 13 rebounds) controlled the game, leading the Falcons to a commanding 37-19 rebounding advantage.
“(Gloucester) is a really good team and we’re happy to come away with the win,” Danvers head coach John Walsh said. “They throw so much at you and when they get open they make you pay. I thought we had a little bit of an advantage down low because we’re bigger and we looked to exploit that. I think our next meeting in their place is going to be a war.”
The Falcons also did a good job defending the perimeter, giving Gloucester’s stand-out guard trio little room to operate, which drew praise from Fishermen head coach Bill Cahill.
“It was a tough game. I think the difference was they shot the ball better than we did,” Cahill said. “They played tough man-to-man and over played the wings. We just couldn’t find that rhythm and couldn’t get into that steady flow. Give Danvers credit, that’s a very good team, but I have to give our kids credit too for putting up a fight like that on the road in a hostile environment. There’s no shame in losing the way we did.”
The reigning Division 3 state champions, who will be playing in Division 2 this season, took control of the game with an outstanding second quarter. Tied at 17 heading into the frame, Danvers began to find its groove both offensively and defensively.
While the Fishermen struggled to find open looks and high percentage shots — shooting just 33 percent in the frame quarter — Danvers began to heat up, sinking eight of its first 10 shots from the field in the frame, including a pair of big 3-pointers from Rashad Francois off the bench to open up a nine-point lead at the break, 38-27.
“They had a really good second quarter,” Cahill said. “They hit a couple of big threes and we struggled to find our rhythm against their defense and forced up a few shots. If you take away that spurt in the second, it’s an even game.”
Gloucester was still in the contest at the start of the third quarter, but the Falcons continued to roll, opening up the frame on a 7-0 run to open up a 16-point lead at 45-29. Merry imposed his will on the Fishermen in the third, dominating the glass on both ends of the floor while chipping in six of his 15 points in the quarter to help his team extend the lead to 57-40 through three.
The Fishermen showed a little life in the fourth, opening the frame on an 11-4 run to cut the lead to 10 (59-49) with five minutes to play with big buckets from Drew Muniz (team-high 16 points), Jeff Oliveira and Austin Davis (14 points). But Danvers made sure that’s as close as Gloucester would get as Harris took over scoring 10 of his 29 points over the final eight minutes to lead his team to a 76-63 win.
“We tried to enter the ball to our bigs as much as possible,” Walsh said. “And I thought both Devan and Peter had great games.”