BYFIELD — Danvers senior forward Nick Bates wasn’t offended by all the pregame attention paid to Whittier Tech’s Justin Reyes before the two teams played last night in a Division 3 North semifinal.
Reyes, a jumping jack forward who was creative in the paint and around the basket, earned his reputation by being a go-to player for the Wildcats this season, which led to him being named co-MVP of the Commonwealth Athletic Conference along with teammate Ryan Grant.
Bates, an athletic player in his own right, did consider the matchup to be a personal challenge.
“I feel like I can match up with a kid like that. I’m pretty athletic as well,” Bates said. “I’ll give it to him, he’s a little more athletic than me, but it was a good matchup.”
It turned out to be a good matchup, but a matchup that swung in Bates’ favor more than many people would have expected.
Bates finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists to lead the Falcons to a 69-51 victory.
Reyes had a typical game for Whittier, scoring a game-high 24 points, but Bates made him work on both ends of the floor.
The offensive production Bates provided for Danvers was welcomed by the Falcons with open arms. Bates only scored a combined 16 points in the teams’ first two postseason games.
”We’ve been positive with him lately. He’s the best athlete on the team, probably on the court almost at all times,” said Danvers senior point guard Eric Martin, who piled up 11 assists. “If he’s aggressive, nobody is going to stop him. As long as he slows down and finishes, nobody is going to stop him.”
When teams are having trouble stopping Bates, especially when he’s going to the hoop, Danvers becomes much more dangerous on offense.
”Any time you have another scorer out there it becomes tougher, and he’s capable because he’s so athletic,” Danvers coach John Walsh said. “He rebounded so well and got a lot of points off the offensive glass. It’s immeasurable. When he goes out and plays like that, we become very tough to beat.”
Bates played with controlled aggression right from the opening tip and stung the Wildcats throughout the first two quarters. He scored 16 of his 19 points before halftime, connecting on 7 of 9 shots, including five buckets in the paint.
The carryover effect of Bates’ first half production was huge. Whittier was only down nine points (33-24) at the break, but the Wildcats had to find a defensive answer for Bates.
Whittier went away from its man-to-man defense in favor of a zone to cut off the lanes Bates was exploring in the first half. The results were even more disastrous for the Wildcats.
Vinny Clifford, Nick McKenna and Bates each hit triples to start the half while Whittier was sitting in a zone, then Danny Connors converted a three-point play that pushed the lead to 20, 45-25.
”Getting me and Danny the ball down low opens up everything for our shooters,” Bates said. “Nick and Vinny, we always can trust them to hit shots, so it’s always good for us to get the ball and dish it back out. That’s how we are. That’s how our offense usually runs.”
Matt Jenkins is a staff writer at the Salem News. He can be reached by phone at 978-338-2648, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.