D2 North: New Mission 61, Danvers 50

LOWELL, Mass. -- New Mission moved another step closer to a Division 2 state title with a 61-50 over Danvers Saturday at the Tsongas Center.

After dominating Division 3 for a number of years, this was Danvers’ first season moving up to Division 2. The Falcons gave the Titans all it could handle Saturday and lead 25-23 at halftime.

New Mission outscored Danvers 19-7 off the back of its interior defense. Danvers’ 6-foot-3 junior Devan Harris terrorized the defense every way possible: off the dribble, off put-back rebounds, and even from beyond the three-point line.

For six minutes in the end of the third quarter however, the entire Danvers team was held scoreless. Neither Harris (27 points, 11 rebounds) nor 6-foot-8 junior Peter Merry (11 points, 10 rebounds) could find any traction underneath the basket. New Mission began pushing the tempo and stretching the defense with outlet passes and transition layups.

“I just think they’re really good on the inside,” said Danvers coach John Walsh. “I think Bam Rivers and Asante Sandiford (18 points, 5 rebounds), I think they’re really good. I think they played well. I think that’s why they made life difficult for them. It’s not so much what our guys didn’t do, it’s a credit to their players and their team.”

Danvers was able to pull within eight with two minutes to go in the game, but by that point New Mission was already in the double bonus. For almost the entire two minutes, Danvers was putting New Mission players on the foul line to hopefully elongate the game, but it continued converting them into points.

“The game is played in stages,” said New Mission coach Cory McCarthy. “We know if the game is close at halftime, we’ve got that third quarter run coming. It’s like we took the best shot, we took a haymaker, and let’s come back with an iron jaw and then just start playing good basketball. We made adjustments, they made adjustments. We made more adjustments and then the outcome is what it is.”

Shaquan Murray was also a force for New Mission, finishing the game with 22 points and 4 rebounds.

It was New Mission’s 19th victory in a row. Coming into the season, it was widely viewed as one of the most talented team’s in the state and is proving it with this deep run in the state tournament.

“We had high expectations coming into this season,” said McCarthy. “We had high expectations because this is a good group of kids who decided they want to play for each other, play for the program, do the work in school and complete the job.”

Bam I am: The numbers won’t jump out at you from the box score. He finished the game with 7 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 5 blocks. He probably won’t make any highlight reel for what he did Saturday. However, Fred “Bam” Rivers had one of the biggest impacts on New Mission’s victory.

“Out of area rebounds, that’s a stat that nobody thinks about,” said McCarthy. “You’re a great rebounder when you’re able to get rebounds out of your area not just rebounds that come to you. He’s a tremendous out-of-area rebounder. He goes to get the ball, he reads it off the rim, the whole nine. His ability to do that and then throw tremendous outlet passes.

“We make Bam do everything: handle the ball, he blocks shots, he reads defenses, he talks. He’s the anchor on the press. He’s switching off, he’s guarding guards. He’s a five-tool player. Appearance doesn’t mean anything. That kid can play and he’s going to help somebody’s college team next year.”

Rivers drew arguably the toughest matchup of the game. He was matched up with Danvers’ 6-foot-8 center Peter Merry (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Devan Harris, the do-everything forward. His physicality in the post was a large reason Danvers was held scoreless for almost six minutes in the third quarter. Merry and Harris attempted to establish themselves in the post in their halfcourt offense, and their teammates went out of their way to feed them. While he did not block every shot, he was physical enough with them to make the leave their shots short or off the mark.

“Those are two good kids, they really play good ball,” Rivers said. “Danvers is a good program, so they’re going to get the best out of them over there. When we went into the game today, we knew it was going to be a tough matchup for us, so we tried to do as much as we could to keep them off the glass so they don’t get rebounds, and try to limit the first shot. You’re only going to get one shot with those guys, so we tried to make a good shot out of everything we had.”

Up next: New Mission moves on to the Division 2 Eastern Mass Final Tuesday at the TD Garden. They will play Milton High School, who defeated Sharon 71-69 in overtime to move on to the state semi-final. The usually outspoken McCarthy shared what he will tell his team going into its next game.

“The rim is exactly 10 feet tall, and the good thing is the other team gets to shoot at the same rims,” he said. “So whoever scores more is going to win that game. I’m not into the Bill Belichick sayings, but whoever scores more is going to win. We’re going to come in there, we’re going to play our style of basketball. I’m not going to go and watch a million takes of Milton High School. I’m just going to go in there and do what we do. If you’re going to beat us, you’re going to have ot stop what we do.”