PEABODY — An experienced backcourt can really help a high school basketball team shake off any early-season rust.
Salem's trio of talented guards — Christian Dunston, Billy Muse, and Marvin Baez — helped the Witches eliminate their nerves, then proceeded to put Peabody away early in a 57-35 road win.
Dunston, Muse, and Baez combined for 37 points in the team's opener and went to the bench for good early in the fourth quarter.
"That's a tough group to contain," Peabody coach Thad Broughton said. "We tried to run a bunch of different guys at them and they were still able to do well. They're just a really well coached team and a tough matchup."
Salem started fast. A pair of three pointers by Muse helped the Witches get out to a 10-2 lead and the Tanners had to make a quick defensive change.
"Right away we opened up with a couple shots that pulled them out of their zone. Then they came at as hard in man, and we've got the kids that can penetrate," Salem coach Tommy Doyle said. "They threw some junk defense out there and it was good to see all of that and see how we responded."
Peabody hung around in the first half by hitting the offensive glass, but the Tanners struggled to cash in on their second-chance opportunities.
"Defensively, we had some nice stretches where I was really happy with what we were doing," Broughton said. "Offensively, we just couldn't convert and every time we missed, they came down and were able to make us pay."
Salem led 37-20 at the half and pushed the advantage to 22 (46-24) by the end of the third quarter.
Dunston finished with a game-high 14 points, and he also added nine assists and five rebounds. Muse contributed 13 points and Baez had 10. Nick Salamida played well off the bench with eight rebounds and Emilio Beato grabbed nine boards.
Steve Leavitt and Jared McCarron each had seven points for Peabody. Sophomore guard Matt Correale played well off the bench with six points.
"I think we're starting to gel right now as a team and it's going to take awhile for the guys to get comfortable with each other," said Broughton. "Hopefully we can get back to practice and work on some things and come back and get on a nice winning streak."
Doyle believes the Northeastern Conference is wide open, so getting off to a fast start is critical.
"I think this league is one of those leagues, as it is most years, that anyone can beat anyone if you don't come to play," Doyle said. "There's no more cream of the crop and then a bunch of teams. I think everyone is floating around the middle."