Before the game, there were the whispers.
"We felt we had to prove something," said Dunbar guard Terrance Alexander. "Some people thought we were getting lazy or thought the competition was getting better."
With 1:50 left in the third quarter, top-ranked Dunbar had blown a 40-23 halftime lead over No. 3 Southern. The Poets trailed 47-46 and, among the Bulldogs fans at the Arena, those whispers had turned to cheers.
But Alexander, the Most Valuable Player in yesterday's MSA A Conference championship game, scored 12 of Dunbar's next 21 points in the ensuing 5:06 to give the Poets a 67-55 lead and it was all over but the shouting.
Dunbar, ranked third in the nation, went on to win the featured game of the Metro Classic, 81-62, and finish the season 27-1. And it was the Poets' ability to finish a tough opponent that made the difference.
Alexander, who also won MVP honors in last week's Public Schools tournament and had 24 points last night, thought back to early in the season. "The St. Anthony's games both went to the wire. That made us ready for this kind of pressure -- a meat grinder."
Dunbar's only loss was a 66-65 defeat at St. Anthony's in Jersey City, N.J., on Dec. 15, but the Poets avenged that a week later, 60-54.
Dunbar coach Pete Pompey wasn't looking that far back. Speaking of recent struggles against Southern, Lake Clifton and Mount St. Joseph, he said, "When our backs have been to the wall, our seniors have shown what they're made of. I can appreciate that in the last three or four games they've shown their guts and fortitude . . . It shows what kind of team this is, with all the close games. They've been asked to beat three good teams [Dunbar of D.C., Southern and Lake Clifton] three times each."
That Southern (17-6) didn't fold early was no surprise to Alexander. "I definitely thought they were going to make a run," he said. After his basket reclaimed a 48-47 lead, the Poets called a timeout. "We talked about not being individualistic. The message got through to everybody . . . You have to try to do it in the team concept. Especially, being a senior, I felt I had to do a little extra and play that much harder."
Alexander didn't do it alone though. "I could pick at least three kids on our team to be an MVP," Pompey said after the game. He may have been thinking of junior center Donta Bright (21 points, six rebounds) and junior point guard Michael Lloyd (game-high 28 points, four steals).
For Southern, guards Kwame Evans (26 points) and David Cason (11 points, seven assists) were outstanding.
But, for the second week in a row, Alexander took home a personal trophy. "It makes me happy," he said. "I'm not a selfish person, but sometimes you can think about it."
And he was thinking about the effect this win would have on the underclassmen who return to Dunbar, including Bright, Lloyd and Keith Booth. "This makes them want to come back again and again and win it over and over," he said.
Attendance for the four games of the Metro Classic totaled 8,727 -- a record for the event, which is in its ninth year. The games are played to benefit the Fuel Fund of Central Maryland and are sponsored by The Evening Sun, Baltimore Gas & Electric, Chevron, WMAR-TV, West Coast Video and WBAL-AM radio.