WORCESTER — Sophomore Vinny Clifford did not hang his head after a scoreless first half.
Instead, he collected himself and shot a perfect 4 for 4 with three 3-pointers in the second half to shatter Smith Academy’s triangle-and-two zone.
On the wings of Clifford’s 11 points and Danvers’s timely offensive production, the Falcons long journey toward back-to-back state titles came to fruition with a 66-50 win to capture the MIAA Division 3 state championship at the DCU Center Saturday.
“We just had to be patient and get the ball to Vinny, because that was the person they were going to leave open,” Danvers coach John Walsh said. “Vinny’s made many threes this year, so we just had to have trust in him. At that time, we were able to hold up.”
Danvers (24-2) led Smith (22-4), 41-34, entering the fourth quarter and the teams traded free throws.
Clifford hit Danvers’s next three shots — one just inside the arc, then back-to-back 3-pointers. Smith’s Seaver Rickert and David Longstreeth mixed in a free throw each, but Clifford’s hot hand gave his team a 50-37 advantage with 5:56 remaining.
“I just told myself to keep shooting,” said Clifford, who was 0 for 5 in the first half. “Everybody has a bad game shooting, but you just have to focus on what you’ve been doing all year and just keep shooting.”
Smith got within 10 in the final minutes with a 3-pointer from Longstreeth and a bucket from William Halloran, which made it 58-48.
But guard Eric Martin hit a pair of free throws and Nick McKenna scored 4 points, stretching the lead to 64-48 as Danvers closed in on the victory.
Senior Nick Bates (12 points, 13 rebounds) scored just before the half to give Danvers a 24-19 edge, but Smith suddenly captured the game’s momentum.
“We were able to execute offensively and were starting to wear them down a bit,” Smith coach Matthew Zerneri said. “They hit some big shots in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter.
“But our kids made them work for everything. We felt like we were fighting from behind the whole game, but they never quit and I’m proud of the boys for that.”
Danvers senior Dan Connors scored 9 points in the second half and finished with 12.
Danvers, which finished 21-4 last season, is 45-6 in the last two years.
“This is the group we started with, and you think back and seeing how long they’ve grown — I can’t even put it into words,” Walsh said. “I’m so proud of the kids. I’m just so happy for them and they’ve done everything we’ve asked.”