Danvers beats Martha’s Vineyard for Division 3 EMass title

There were plenty of question marks surrounding the Danvers boys’ basketball team entering the season. The Falcons were fresh off a Division 3 state championship, but could they stay hungry? Could they make up for the graduation of 6-foot-7-inch All-Scholastic George Merry?

Well, John Walsh’s charges have met every challenge, the latest coming Tuesday night when the Falcons knocked off Martha’s Vineyard, 50-47, in the Division 3 Eastern Mass. title game at TD Garden.

Danvers (21-4) will face Smith Academy Saturday in Worcester in an attempt to win its second straight state crown.

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“We have proven to everyone in the state that Danvers basketball is going to be a real thing for a long time,” said Falcons guard Nick McKenna, who finished with 11 points. “Coming back this year is definitely something we wanted to do and its an unbelievable accomplishment for the whole team.”

Martha’s Vineyard had a chance to send the game to overtime, but Izak Browne’s 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark. Browne finished with a game-high 17 points.

With 2:28 left in the fourth quarter, Martha’s Vineyard held a 2-point lead over the Falcons, who were riding a five-game win streak. Nicholas Bates (12 points) made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 43, and Dan Connors (10 points) followed with two of his own to put the Falcons ahead.

Danvers, which is 44-6 over the last two seasons, took advantage of having the clock on its side, as Eric Martin hit a jumper to extend the lead to 4 points. McKenna then hit 1 of 2 free throws to make it 48-43.

However, Martha’s Vineyard guard Jack Roberts (12 points) kept hopes alive as he made two free throws to cut the deficit to 3. Martin, who was the hero just seconds before, was sent to the line and missed both. As time was winding down, Brandon Watkins (8 points) turned on the jets and raced past a few defenders for an easy layup, making the score 48-47.

McKenna was fouled on the ensuing possession and sent back to the line where he drained both shots, putting Danvers up by 3 with just 4.7 seconds left, setting the stage for Browne.

“I didn’t expect to get that open but I did and put the shot up,” said Browne, describing the final possession. “It wasn’t a good shot at all and you could see that by the final results.”

Trailing, 17-10, Browne started to catch fire and dropped 12 points in the second quarter to send the teams into the locker rooms tied at 24. The Falcons were outscored, 14-7, in the second quarter but showed tremendous poise to mount a comeback to walk off the parquet EMass champions once again.

Despite the loss, Martha’s Vineyard coach Michael Joyce was impressed with his team and the support of the school and town.

“The number of people that came out today was astronomical,” said Joyce. “We had seven buses of kids, they had a half day at school. This is the first time in a little more than probably 35 years that we’ve been here.”