By Matt Jenkins
---- — DANVERS — The final seconds hadn’t ticked off the scoreboard clock and Saugus High boys basketball coach Paul Moran already had his jacket on.
The Sachems couldn’t wait to get out of Danvers after the Falcons put on a clinic while dismantling their Northeastern Conference Small foes, 81-51.
Saugus came into the contest with a 3-0 record and a legitimate reputation as the team most likely to push Danvers in the conference title chase. The Sachems left, however, with a better understanding of how difficult it will be to dethrone the reigning league champs.
Danvers (3-0) used a 17-0 carry-over run between the first and second quarters to take control of the game, then piled on a 31-2 spurt that began midway through the second quarter and ended early in the third. During that stretch, the Falcons’ lead swelled from 14 points (31-17) to 43 (62-19).
The Falcon starters went to the bench after a Nick McKenna three-pointer pushed the lead to 57-19 with 6:15 to play in the third quarter. They never returned.
“We just had to play with confidence. Everybody was a little tentative at the start,” said senior Nick Bates, who scored all 14 of his points in the first half. “They had a pep rally coming out to see us, and it was a big game for them and a big game for us. We were just a little tentative. Once we got some shots going in, though, it was fine from there.”
The Falcons fell behind 11-6 to start the game, but closed the first quarter by scoring 13 straight due in large part to a defensive adjustment.
Danvers coach John Walsh extended his team’s defense out to a full-court trap that forced turnovers and jump-started the offense.
“You know coming in that they’re going to play tough man-to-man and that you can’t turn the ball over,” Saugus (3-1) assistant coach Mike Pelletier said. “Unfortunately in the first half, that’s exactly what we did. We could not recover after going down by 20.”
Saugus started the game with energy and a little bit of swagger, but once Danvers extended its defense the Sachems’ offensive trips became rushed and full of panic.
That resulted in open looks and easy hoops for the Falcons.
“Saugus is so well coached and Paul get them up to play. You know they’re going to come out firing and they really did. When you start hitting shots, sometimes that can take the energy away,” Walsh said. “I think (the press) seemed to create some turnovers and that really helped.”
Bates and McKenna each got hot late in the first quarter and started burning Saugus inside and out. McKenna finished with a game-high 19 points and Bates had 14. Dan Connors also hit double figures with 11, while starters Eric Martin (7) and Vinny Clifford (two threes, 6 points) also did their part.
Only Joe Bertrand hit double figures for Saugus with 14 points.
“It’s tough when everyone’s playing well. When we get the ball in to Dan Connors, everything feeds off him. When he’s making his layups the defense has to drop in and it gets open shots for all our shooters,” McKenna said. “All of our guards shot well tonight. It was a team win, definitely.”