By Matt Jenkins
---- — DANVERS — The Danvers boys basketball team — playing without 6-foot-7 starting center Peter Merry for the third straight game — took Lynn English, one of the top Division 1 teams in the state, down to the wire last night.
Three years ago, that type of effort would have been filed away as a moral victory, but the taste of last night’s 71-66 loss to the Bulldogs was nothing but bitter for the Falcons.
“I’m actually kind of happy about it. At Danvers I think we’ve turned the corner where I don’t think we have moral (victories),” Danvers (10-2) coach John Walsh said. “The kids are devastated. They played as hard as they could, but they look at it like they scored more points than we did and they beat us. And it’s not a good feeling.”
Sticking to a short rotation even with Merry sitting on the bench in street clothes, Danvers seemed to wear down due to Lynn English’s pressure. The Bulldogs play tight man-to-man all over the court, usually doubling the ball in the backcourt.
At times, the Falcons struggled to take care of the basketball, but built a first-half lead due to their own air-tight defense.
Lynn English senior guard Fred Hogan came into the game needing 16 points to reach 1,000 for his career, but Danvers freshman Devonn Allen made life miserable for him early. Hogan was shut out in the first quarter and didn’t register his first point until dropping a runner with 24 seconds left in the half.
The Falcons also shut down Hogan’s backcourt running mate in the first half, holding point guard Erick Rosario scoreless.
Danvers’ offense may not have been flawless, but the Falcons were executing well enough to build a 30-14 lead with less than two minutes to go before intermission. They led 33-22 at the break.
“We were defending pretty well, but the foul trouble gets on you,” Walsh said. “You try to switch things up and then one of their guys gets going and it is what it is.”
Allen got into foul trouble, which forced Walsh to go to his bench and switch things defensively.
Hogan and Rosario each started to percolate and Danvers’ lead slowly began to shrink. Hogan scored 11 points in the third quarter and Rosario added nine, and Danvers took a 49-47 lead into the final quarter.
“I’m thrilled with the win, but disgusted with that first half. It was tough to watch. I wasn’t sure we could turn it on like we did,” Lynn English coach Mike Carr said.
“We finally figured out what we were going to do when we did get in our offensive sets. Most teams have been playing us with zones, and our eyes kind of light up when we see man. The second half, that was off our defense.”
The Bulldogs wore Danvers down and ended up forcing 22 turnovers.
The fourth quarter went back and forth until there was 3:25 to go. That’s when Hogan finished a double-clutch layup to notch his 1,000th point, in the process giving the Bulldogs their first lead of the night at 62-60.
A Danny Lukanda layup and a Hogan breakaway made it a two possession game with less than a minute to go, and the Falcons didn’t have enough left in the tank to produce any magic.
Devan Harris was a beast underneath the hoop for the Falcons, scoring a team-high 22 points. He also grabbed nine offensive rebounds. Rashad Francois chipped in with 14 points and Mark McCarthy and Kieran Beck each scored 11 for Danvers.
Hogan led all scorers with 23, Rosario and Johnny Hilaire had 15 apiece for English and Lukanda contributed 14.
A loss like this should help the Falcons in the long run, especially having to deal with the adversity of playing without Merry.
“It gets you ready for the state tournament,” Walsh said. “It was hard, asking Kieran to defend one of their big guys and have to try to bring the ball up the court as well. We don’t sub much, maybe that’s my fault. We haven’t subbed much in the past and I think the kids are learning how to play against this type of talent.”