GLOUCESTER -- The Manchester Essex boys basketball team has prided themselves on defense early on this season, using relentless pressure on that end of the floor to spark the offense.
Through three games (all wins), the Hornets were averaging over 25 forced turnovers per game, and Saturday evening in the BankGloucester Holiday Tournament championship, they did it again.
Led by senior captain Kellen Furse, Manchester Essex consistently made things difficult for opposing Danvers, responding to every Falcons run while leading the entire second half en route to a 58-49 triumph.
Furse finished with a game-high 24 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and six steals, taking home tournament MVP honors in the process.
"Our defense usually propels us, (but) we backed off a little bit tonight playing against a Northeastern Conference team with some athleticism," admitted Hornets' head coach Tim St. Laurent. "But we still turned them over and did what we wanted to do to get the win.
"The best thing Kellen does for us is his defense, but he can also rebound, he's smart, he took the ball to the hoop hard tonight and knocked down some big free throws down the stretch."
Despite Furse's incredible all-around performance, it was the Falcons who raced out to a quick lead.
Senior Chris Perez (10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, steal and a block) connected on a pair of first quarter triples, while Jared Berry (15 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists) and Adonis Sanchez-Manon also found bottom from deep to give Danvers a 17-10 lead after one.
But the hot shooting start fizzled out from there, as the Falcons fell victim to too many isolation type shots as Manchester's D continued to press. The Hornets wound up taking the lead late in the second, seized an eight point advantage (32-24) at the half, and more or less kept their distance from there en route to the win. All-tournament selection Mason Paccone (18 points, 5 rebounds, steal and a block) was a catalyst offensively for the victors in the opening half, drilling three triples on his way to 13 points before the break.
"The pressure did get to us a bit, but we didn't help ourselves and played selfishly in those second and third quarters," said Falcons' (3-3) head coach Chris Timson. "We just tried to do it ourselves, and nobody ran the sets the right way.
"Against a good team like this, Tim (St. Laurent) does a good job with them; you can't slide by just relying on one pass shots. You have to run your sets and do things the right way and unfortunately, we didn't do that tonight."
While Danvers lost, it never really felt like they were out of it.
Big man Max Beuvelet got going in the post during the second half and the Falcons kept feeding him. His work down low led to a slew of layups and for a stretch of play the Hornets' had no answer. With less than three minutes to play it was only a 51-46 game, but Danvers ultimately couldn't get over the hump and Manchester made them pay by calmly drilling their free throws in crunch time.
Beuvelet finished with a team-best 18 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in the setback and was named to the all-tournament team along with Perez.
"Max played great and when they got him the ball, he kicked out or finished well down low," said Timson. "He's doing great, improving every day and we're fortunate to have him."
Jack Shaw finished with nine points, six rebounds and a steal for Manchester, while Ambrose Pallazola tallied four steals to go with his four points and three boards. But the night belonged to Furse, and St. Laurent praised his senior standout after the win.
"He's a four-year starter and two-year captain," said St. Laurent. "He's in unbelievable shape and was All-New England in soccer, so he's just picking up where he left off, coming right in to basketball and doing exactly what we needed him to do. He was great tonight."