After Andre Rafus sank Dunbar three weeks ago with 30 points, including the game -3-pointer, Dunbar knew they would have their hands full with the blue chip 6-foot-10 forward the second time around on Tuesday night.
“It was a major focus coming into the game,” Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones, Sr., said of Rafus. “We came out the first time during the regular season and we basically lost focus of him, and allowed him to run wild and run loose, and get easy shots and make plays for them. … So we just tried to make sure we had a body on him at all times, and try to make someone else beat us.”
On Tuesday night, No. 17 Dunbar played gridlock defense this time around, holding Rafus (offers from Georgetown and Kansas) to only seven total points, scoring just two in the first half, while beating No. 12 Lake Clifton 51-46, advancing to the Class 2A North Section I final against Baltimore City foe Patterson.
“Just keep playing defense, and everything else will fall into place,” Poets guard Dashawn Phillip said.
Just like the matchup earlier in the month, when Lake Clifton nipped Dunbar 58-56, this game was also a nail-bitter up to the final 10 seconds, except a big difference-maker is the Lakers were without starting guard Rasheed Brown.
The Poets led the Lakers 11-10 after the first quarter. After multiple lead changes, Dunbar led 22-19 at halftime after Tymu Chenery’s (10 points) 3 at the second quarter buzzer.
Things got more interesting in the third quarter, however. With a little over three minutes left in the third, Rafus gave the Lakers the lead, 28-27, before Dunbar senior guard Damonte Moore hit a 3 to push the Poets back in front, 36-34.
The Lakers opened the fourth quarter on a 6-2 run, regaining the lead, after freshman Michael Gray (10 Points) made three consecutive layups, but then injured his wrist and didn’t return.
Both teams were locked in a stalemate at 46-all until Lake Clifton guard Steven Parker was called for a carry in the Lakers backcourt. Taking advantage of the turnover, Moore (12 Points) got fouled on a drive to the basket and made two free throws to give the Poets a 48-46 lead with less than a minute left in the game.
On the following Laker possession, they turned the ball over again, giving it right back to the Poets with 35 seconds to go. On the inbounds for Dunbar, Phillips (10 points) got the ball stripped by the Lake Clifton and the Lakers regained possession with 25 seconds left.
With an opportunity for the last shot, and needing just a 2-point bucket to tie the game up, the Lakers called a timeout to strategize their next play.
With time ticking down, around 11 seconds, Benjamin Carter (five points) received a screen and an open look for a mid-range jumper from the right elbow, but missed it off the front the rim. Q.L. Giles came away with the rebound, immediately getting fouled, heading to the line.
Fighting through the pressure, Giles made both free throws, which were his only two points of the game. His free throws extended the Poets lead to 50-46, and preserved the win.
“Coach had us in practice everyday working on free throws, and my teammates were telling me to knock down the free throws; shoot like I did in practice,” Giles said.
Dunbar will travel to Patterson on Thursday, March 2, with tipoff set for 5:30 p.m. Earlier this season, the Poets fell short to the Clippers, 49-47, setting up another nail-bitter.