SALEM — Christian Dunston admitted that he and his Salem High boys basketball teammates felt a little trepidation down the stretch last night against Northeastern Conference rival Beverly.
The Witches held a double-digit lead late in the fourth quarter, but finishing teams off has been a problem for them lately.
Salem took a big step toward eliminating its late-game struggles against the Panthers, however, hanging on for a 67-56 victory.
“To be honest, we were a little bit nervous because we knew coming into fourth quarters we’ve been known to give up leads,” Dunston said. “It was pressure, but it was confident pressure. We were like, ‘We can finish this.’ We know we’re capable of doing this, so it was good.”
The Witches had to be trembling a little bit when Beverly started the fourth quarter with a seven-point run that cut a 13-point lead to six (53-47) with 5:06 to play.
Salem, which took a difficult loss to Lynn Classical Friday when it let a fourth-quarter lead slip away, had the answer this time.
Marvin Baez delivered the big blow when he banked in a long three-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock expiring. That shot gave Salem (5-2) a 61-50 advantage with 2:17 to play.
“It wasn’t our night,” Beverly (5-2) coach Scott Lewis said. “Baez throws one in off the backboard and that was like the icing on the cake. But, to their credit, they made plays and we didn’t make enough plays to be successful.”
Beverly had a very good first quarter, controlling the tempo, running through its plays and opening a 19-18 lead in the process.
Then, Salem got a huge boost in the second quarter from reserve forward Davonte Holloway. Holloway scored 11 of his 13 points in the second quarter, including a personal 7-0 run that gave Salem a lead it would never relinquish.
“Huge,” Salem coach Tommy Doyle said, describing Holloway’s contributions. “Not only did he score, but he also did a lot of effort things defensively. Another kid got a blocked shot, but it was caused by him sprinting back on defense. He just gave us a charge off the bench. He went in and played his heart out on both ends of the court.”
Salem outscored Beverly 20-8 in the second quarter, and that was simply too much for the Panthers to overcome on this night.
“I think we lost our composure for like a four-minute stretch and we kind of played hurry up,” Lewis said. “In the first quarter, when we ran our stuff we kind of scored fairly easy, and then in the second quarter we kind of got out of it and tried to play hurry up. We lost our composure and that was a big stretch because we fell behind and couldn’t get close again.”
Beverly got solid contributions from Jon Berchoff (16 points), Nick Cross (16), and Dom Abate (12), but it wasn’t enough to match the Witches.
Dunston led all scorers with 19 points, Baez added 16 and Billy Muse hit for 12. Reserve forward David Kazadi also drew high praise from Doyle. Kazadi grabbed seven rebounds for the Witches.
Beating Beverly is always important for Salem, but this game had added importance because of Friday’s loss to Classical.
“It means a lot coming off the loss,” Dunston said. “We were all really upset and we were trying to figure out how we could fight, how we could redeem ourselves. Tonight was the night to redeem ourselves and show everybody that we might give up leads, but we’re going to fight to the finish and keep pushing and keep our foot on the gas.”