By Matt Jenkins
---- — WELLESLEY — The Danvers High boys basketball team could still achieve the perfect ending — but the Falcons’ hopes for a perfect season were shot down last night at Babson College.
Brighton junior point guard Malik James successfully started breaking down the Danvers defense in the second half and the Bengals caught fire, exploding for 30 points in the third quarter and pulling ahead for a 74-66 win in the IAABO Board 27 Comcast Classic.
The loss was Danvers’ first of the season.
The Falcons (18-1) will now conclude their regular season against Newton North today (4:30 p.m.) in the consolation game. Brighton (13-5) will battle B.C. High in the championship (6:30 p.m.).
Danvers led by seven at the half (35-28), but Brighton came out of the locker room with a renewed sense of urgency. The Bengals increased their defensive pressure and James started cutting through the teeth of the Falcons’ defense. That, coupled with Danvers senior point guard Eric Martin suffering a minor groin injury, made it difficult for the Falcons.
Martin played through the pain, but he was clearly hobbling in the second half. That made staying in front of James nearly impossible.
“The kid (James) is phenomenal; he’s as good a point guard as you’re going to see. It’s really tough with a kid like that,” Danvers head coach John Walsh said.
“We tried man-to-man defense to start, then went 1-2-2, then we went 1-3-1, then went back to man. We kept trying to change it up and when those kids started hitting shots, it worked for awhile, but when they started hitting threes it all came in a row.”
Brighton started the second half with a 7-0 run to tie the game, then added a 10-0 spurt shortly after.
James scored 12 of his 22 points in the third quarter and Nick Simpson added 10 in the frame.
Dan Connors, who led Danvers with 23 points, cut it to a two-possession game early in the fourth quarter with an old-fashioned three-point play, but Brighton then went on a 12-2 run to put it out of reach.
Brighton coach Hugh Coleman felt the increased pressure his team put on Martin getting the ball up the court helped change his team’s attitude, and James’ ability to break down the defense was critical.
“It took them out of their offense a little big and caused a couple turnovers and we got some layups and built up our confidence. I felt that was a real key for us,” Coleman said. “We rely on (James’) ability to break the defense down enough that we can get open shots. Therefore, when he’s focused and in gear, it means everything to our program and to our team.”
Simpson led the Bengals with 23 points while Mark Mojica and Jason Jones each had 10 points. Nate Hogan hit three threes and applied the defensive pressure on Martin, who was held to six points.
Nick Bates scored 21 points for Danvers and Nick McKenna chipped in with 16.
The Falcons clearly felt the sting of their first loss, but Walsh knows how beneficial playing an opponent like Brighton can be before the state tournament.
“Anytime you play a team like that I guess it can’t hurt,” Walsh said. “They’re so good and it’s going to prepare you. It’s something else you know that you’ve seen. When you look at their record, it’s deceiving; Malik James missed a bunch of games, but when that kid is there, they’re as good as anyone in the whole state.”