SALEM — The players on the Salem boys basketball team would probably prefer to play an uptempo, run-and-gun style game every night. But sometimes that simply isn’t the path to victory.
That was the case last night as the Witches turned to defense and a slow pace to defeat Danvers at its own game, grinding out a 41-38 victory at home.
The Falcons, who came in with an undefeated record, got a good look to tie it with less than five seconds to play, but junior forward Devan Harris’ 3-pointer spun out.
Salem’s secret was turning to an old friend — the 3-2 zone defense that has been a staple in the past, but not this year.
With the long, quick and athletic Rashad Keys playing at the top of the zone and David Kazadi and Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez covering the ground under the basket, Salem (5-1) bothered the Falcons on offense all night.
Danvers started with the game’s first seven points in the opening three minutes of the game, then was held to 31 points in the remaining 29 minutes.
“We played (the 3-2) a little bit against Beverly in the first five minutes (of the first game of the season) and struggled and got out of it. We hadn’t gone back to it,” Salem coach Tommy Doyle said. “We really worked hard at it over the weekend at practice, just trying to get ready for this game because we thought it would be the most effective defense against them. Thankfully, it worked.”
Salem’s return to the 3-2 zone was not a complete surprise for Danvers, but the Witches length allowed them to contest shots on the perimeter while also making life difficult for Peter Merry and Harris inside the paint.
Salem also forced Danvers into 19 turnovers.
“We kind of thought they would do it,” Danvers coach John Walsh said. “We had been shooting the ball a lot better, but we just didn’t shoot it well tonight. Mark (McCarthy) hit four threes and everyone else shot it real poorly. But they challenged our shots and that’s a credit to them. I thought they did a very good job defensively.”
Danvers, meanwhile, made life just as miserable for Salem when the Witches had the ball. Salem actually grabbed 21 offensive rebounds, but still managed only 41 points.
The Falcons harassed Salem point guard Jamie Dominguez so much on the perimeter that Doyle turned to guards Michael Sanchez and Kelven Perpetuo to handle the ball off the bench. That allowed Dominguez to work off the ball.
Dominguez led the way for Salem with 11 points, but none of them came easily.
“I was frustrated, but then I just thought about playing defense. I just wanted to play defense and forget about offense,” Dominguez said. “That’s the hardest we’ve played all year.”
Kazadi came through with 10 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks while Martinez-Rodriguez scored all 10 of his points in the first half.
Merry scored 14 points to lead Danvers and McCarthy hit four threes for 12 points. McCarthy was the only Danvers play to make a shot from beyond the arc, but the Falcons found a way to get Harris a clean look with the clock winding down.
“It’s funny, you draw something up and you never know if it’s going to work the way you draw it up. It was one of those things where it really did,” Walsh said. “We got the look and it just didn’t go in.”
The victory was huge for Salem. Danvers hadn’t dropped a Northeastern Conference game since the 2011-12 season.
“They get after it. They’re well disciplined, well coached and they play hard right to the buzzer,” Doyle said. “They’re the two-time defending state champs and they were undefeated coming into this game, so this is a good win for us.”
Salem has very little time to enjoy it. The Witches are back at it tonight against NEC power Lynn English.