After the show was over, Annapolis basketball coach John Brady sat back in his office, wiped the beads of sweat on his brow and said, "That was the most talent I've seen since that Ocean City 'Best Body on the Beach' contest."
The veteran coach was talking about the top-ranked Dunbar Poets of Baltimore, who had just invaded his Fighting Panthers' gym for the fifth time in his 14-year tenure -- and left a winner for the fifth time.
The Poets beat the Panthers Saturday, 80-61.
No question -- the Poets are an awesome team with a tradition of outstanding high school basketball, including three national and 16 Maryland Scholastic Association titles. The current team, said Pete Pompey, the Poets' coach for the last five seasons, is "probably the best talented team I'vehad."
So talented, in fact, that USA Today ranked them fifth in the nation.
And it seems likely that the Poets will be a force to reckon with in future years as well, since they are an underclass-dominated power with most of its stars juniors and sophomores.
But as great as Dunbar is -- 16-1, with 12 consecutive wins -- Saturday was a night they could have been had.
Annapolis blew a golden opportunity to pull off the upset of the year by shooting horrendously at thefoul line (8-for-19), especially in the first half (2-for-11), and by taking a sound whipping on the boards. Dunbar out-rebounded the losers, 52-27, and was 14-for-27 at the line.
Still, despite those differences and the fact that the Poets made 102 shots to just 68 by the Panthers, Annapolis didn't play all that badly. Their play was better than the officiating; had the latter been better, the game might have been closer.
"I wasn't pleased with the officiating at all. Wedidn't get any of the calls, none, none!" said an angry Brady, who found it hard to believe his team was at home. "(Officials Tom Fisher and Terry McCaulay) called the game the way it would have been calledat Dunbar."
There is an unwritten rule in high school and collegehoops that the home team gets the benefit of the calls. But on Saturday --despite the pleas of the boisterous Annapolis crowd -- the officials didn't seem to realize that reaching over the back is a foul.
"They were going over the top the entire game and (the officials) weren't calling it," said Brady. "I'm not disappointed in the effort of our kids. We kept surging back, and we played as hard as we could play. Our game plan of a match-up zone was good, but we had the wrong guys working the game. (Dunbar) was on our backs all night."
Bradyemployed the match-up zone, hoping to force the Poets to fire it upfrom the perimeter, after consulting with Jimmy Savage of Catonsville. Savage is the son of Loyola High (Towson) veteran coach Jerry Savage and had scouted the Poets several times for Brady.
It was a superb strategy, but it backfired because the Poets missed from the outside only to get second and third shots, sometimes as many as four or five shots, by grabbing the offensive rebounds. That is what Brady questioned.
The Panther coach feels that the officials allowed the Poets to get those consistent second and third shots by aggressively going over the backs of the Panthers without penalty.
"The way things were going, I swear to God, I thought we were at Dunbar," said Brady, who was, along with the crowd, bothered by a few non-calls.
Early in the final period, with Dunbar holding a 62-45 lead, the Panthers' Ahmed Middleton went up, got a shot off and was hammered by the Poets' Michael Lloyd. From my angle, the ball appeared to be on the way down and the call should have been goaltending.
Instead, Middleton got two foul shots and made the second one. The roar from the crowd indicated that most had seen goaltending -- everyone except for the men in black and white stripes.
"It was definitely goaltending,"said Brady. "The ball was right over the top of the rim, and (Lloyd)goes over right over the top and flicks it out. It had to be coming down."
In addition to pushing and shoving underneath, the Poets were nifty at circumventing another rule which, if enforced, would haveresulted in a few technical fouls. After scoring, the Poets constantly slapped the ball away, forcing the Panthers to chase after it in order to hand it to the referee.
"They did that all night and got away with it," said Brady. "We should have gone to the line a few times, but it wasn't called."
Fisher and McCaulay, who have reputations as two of the best officials Local Board No. 23 has to offer, appeared bewildered, as if they were calling the game at Dunbar. That's not to say they should cheat for our county team. But they should have shown more gumption in making calls against the Poets, a team that certainly doesn't need help.
Brady's remarks were not sour grapes, because after being beaten by the Poets, 86-59, last year he had no complaints. And the coach wasn't saying that the referees' calls decided the outcome because he knows, like the rest of us, that Dunbar clearly is the better team.