Dunbar must have thought it was in the Twilight Zone during the first half of yesterday's Baltimore City Public Schools Tournament championship game against Southern at Morgan State.
For the first time this season, the top-ranked Poets trailed at halftime, 29-26.
They had turned the ball over eight times and made just nine of 26 shots and five of 14 free throws. Two of the missed free-throw attempts didn't even touch the rim.
"It was the worst half we played all year," said Dunbar coach Pete Pompey.
But when a team has as much talent as Dunbar, it can hang around an opponent even on an off day and wait for an opportunity, which is what the Poets did as they rallied to defeat No. 3 Southern, 59-55, and win their third straight tournament title before a crowd of 1,600.
Dunbar (25-1) got the opportunity it needed early in the fourth quarter, when it pulled ahead of Southern (16-5) behind the play of sophomore forward Keith Booth (12 points, five rebounds, three assists), then held off the Bulldogs with senior guard Terrance Alexander (20 points, seven rebounds, four assists) leading the way.
"He's a clutch player," Pompey said of Alexander, the tournament most valuable player, who twice hit baskets to open Dunbar's lead to four after the Bulldogs had gotten within two in the final minute of the game.
"They are all clutch players," Pompey added. "They all want the ball when the game's on the line. Nobody runs away from the ball."
Yesterday, none of the Poets' fabulous foursome of Booth, Alexander, Donta Bright and Michael Lloyd could get going for three quarters.
This contest was the opposite of the last month's meeting between the two, when Dunbar dominated Southern from tip-off to buzzer en route to an 81-41 victory.
"They turned in a lot different effort," said Alexander. "What happened was they played a zone more than man-to-man, and it took us a while to adjust."
The Poets also may have been guilty of underestimating the Bulldogs.
"We may have been just a little overconfident," Pompey said.
It was an aggressive 1-2-2 zone that shut down the Poets' inside game. Bright, the Poets' biggest inside threat, finished with just five points.
For three quarters, Southern kept Dunbar's offense out of sync and led by as much as nine (19-10 in the second quarter) before the Poets pulled within 42-41 at the end of the quarter.
The Poets began to roll at the start of the fourth quarter, as Booth scored seven to fuel a 9-3 run and the Poets pulled ahead, 50-45, with five minutes left.
With the lead, Dunbar was able to force Southern out of the zone that had been so effective.
Still, Southern got within two twice, at 52-50 and 54-52, but each time Alexander hit a clutch basket to open the lead to four. First it was a leaner from the baseline, then a driving layup to the basket with 26 seconds left to make it 56-52.
Southern turned the ball over on its next possession, and Booth extended the Poets' lead to 57-52 with 15 seconds left with a free throw.
Kwame Evans nailed a three-pointer with six seconds left to cut the Poets's lead to 57-55. But two free throws by Michael Lloyd with five seconds left put the game away.
"We thought we could play with them, and I guess we proved thattoday. But we didn't just want to play with them; we wanted to win," said Southern coach Meredith Smith.
Evans, a junior guard, played well to lead Southern with 18 points. He helped take the scoring burden off of senior point guard David Cason, who finished with 16.
Senior forward Che Evans (Kwame's brother) came off the bench to give Southern some solid play up front. He finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, but the Bulldogs got a total of just sevenpoints from starting center John Salley and starting forwards Derrick Watkins and Stephen Perry.
The Bulldogs and Poets could be in for Round 3 and a rematch of last year's Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference championship game in the Metro Classic Sunday at the Baltimore Arena if both win semifinal games tomorrow night at Morgan in the A Conference playoff. Southern meets Mount St. Joseph at 6 and Dunbar takes on Lake Clifton at 8.