The Salem News
---- — In the Paint
Lineup controversies are often a sign of dysfunction. In many cases, a bench player pushes for a starting position because the starter is under-performing.
Those are the scenarios that drive coaches insane.
The problem Beverly’s Scott Lewis faces is the complete opposite: his starting five is performing just fine, but his sixth man, junior forward Nick Cross, is producing at a highly efficient rate.
Lewis is almost coaching with a pinch of guilt. How can he keep bringing a player that leads the team in scoring (13.6 per game) and blocks (21) off the bench? Then again, why would he change anything now after the Panthers have already locked up a Division 2 North playoff berth with a 10-3 record?
“We’re in and out with him and he’s been playing really well. I didn’t want to jinx it, and it’s nice to have that spark (off the bench) if you’re struggling,” Lewis said. “He’s that spark of energy right away. He’s really accepted (his role) well. A lot of kids would say, ‘Hey, I should be starting.’”
The versatility Cross brings to the court also makes Lewis’ decision a little bit easier.
Cross is 6-foot-2 with long arms and athleticism. He handles the ball well for his size, can score in the post, and has three-point range. In other words, he can enter the lineup in place of any of the Panthers’ five starters.
“He’s a really good free throw shooter. He collects points that way and he knocks down the three,” Lewis said. “If teams put a guard on him (defensively) he can go on the block, and if they put a bigger guy on him he can go outside. It’s a nice matchup problem for us.”
It seems that Cross is also playing with a high level of confidence and comfort now.
Cross went to Bishop Fenwick for his freshman year, then attended St. John’s Prep as a sophomore. Neither school was the right fit, and now he’s back playing basketball with his friends which, according to Lewis, may be making all the difference in his game.
Lewis felt there was a bit of an adjustment period for Cross, but it mostly had to do with Beverly’s need for him to spend some time in the post.
“The best thing was that he was comfortable because he was with his friends. You could see that comfort factor coming back to Beverly,” Lewis said. “He’s friends with these kids and knows them, but he was getting used to what we wanted him to do. He’s been a guard for most of his career and we wanted him down low sometimes.”
Recently, Cross has shown that he’s fully adapted to his role.
He scored a career-high 31 points on Friday in a win over Winthrop, and followed it with 18 points in the Panthers’ tournament-clinching victory over Bridgewater-Raynham this weekend.
“It’s kind of funny when you have 31 points you’d think he took a lot of shots, but it came in the natural flow of the game,” Lewis said. “He’s a good finisher with long arms and athleticism, and he’s not afraid to take it to the basket.”
Cross and the Panthers face a huge game tonight with undefeated Danvers coming to town.
The Falcons are still without senior guard Nick McKenna, and Cross could cause some problems for the Danvers defense, but Beverly is still a big underdog.
Danvers has played only two games where its margin of victory was under 20 points — an 18-point win over Lynn Classical and a 19-point victory over Revere.
The Falcons’ dominance makes Beverly’s preparation a little easier.
“There’s no pressure on us. We can go out and play the best we can and see where we stand,” Lewis said. “If we win, then that’s great. It would be a great victory over one of the best programs in the state.”
Beverly is approaching the game like it would any other, but even a defeat could be beneficial to the Panthers.
Playing teams like Danvers only strengthens the Panthers’ postseason outlook.
“Everybody has slip-ups through the course of the season, especially on the road when you might not play well, but they seem to be head and shoulders above everybody else. Everybody knew they would be good, but I don’t think anyone anticipated this,” said Lewis, who recently won his 100th game. “I think it’s excellent for the conference; it just elevates the conference, as far as recognition, around the state. We know we’re not going to face many teams better than Danvers (in the postseason), so it’s a really good test to see where we stand.”
Danvers coach John Walsh takes every opponent seriously and prepares his team like it’s the biggest game on the schedule, but it’s clear that he has some serious respect for this year’s Panthers.
“I think we’ve got our hands full. They’re as good a team as we’ve seen this year,” Walsh said. “They’re very similar to us. We both match up well with each other. They’re really well coached and I think it’s going to be tough. I’m hoping for a good atmosphere and a tourney-type crowd. It’s definitely going to be a battle.”
Walsh is expecting McKenna to return to the lineup on February 8 when his team goes to Saugus. In McKenna’s absence, Kieran Beck has played well.
Beck has been in double figures twice since filling in the starting lineup and has averaged a little more than seven points per game in the last five contests.
“He’s been playing really hard and is doing a great job defending and rebounding as well as scoring,” Walsh said. “He’s a really good athlete.
“Hopefully, we can defend (Beverly) well. Cam Rogers is as good as anyone, Cross had 30 the other night, and I love Jon Berchoff. They’re pretty impressive.”
A game to keep an eye on is next week’s tilt between Hamilton-Wenham and Masconomet. Each team enters this week riding six-game win streaks. The Generals will battle Manchester Essex (tonight) and Triton (Friday) at home, while Masco hosts both Rockport (tonight) and Pentucket (Friday).
It’s entirely possible that these two Cape Ann League rivals will meet next Tuesday with eight-game win streaks under their belts.
In The Paint, a column on North Shore boys’ basketball, runs every Tuesday during the winter sports season in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at 978-338-2648, by e-mail at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.
Five for thought ... The recent Nick Cross explosion for Beverly makes this a perfect time to take a look at the top reserves in the area. Having confidence in a bench player is one of the best feelings a coach can have. Here are five players that make it easy for their respective coaches to substitute: 1. Nick Cross, Beverly Jr. F -- He can score (13.6 points per game), rebound (5.1 per game) and defend (21 blocks). Sounds like a complete player to me. 2. Max Burt, St. John's Prep Jr. G -- A versatile guard who can play the point or off the ball, Burt has also committed to defense this winter. 3. Kieran Beck, Danvers Jr. G -- Beck has filled in admirably with Nick McKenna on the shelf with mononucleois. He's also more athletic than he looks. 4. Ben Maxner, Bishop Fenwick Sr. C -- Maxner is currently a reserve, but he could be headed back to the Crusaders' starting lineup any day. As the sixth man he brings size, experience and defense off the pine. 5. David Kazadi, Salem Jr. F -- A raw talent who provides some much-needed size and athleticism to the Witches' frontcourt.