JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- Dunbar High may be ranked No. 1 in the country, but last night coach Pete Pompey rated the Poets a six in their season-opening 92-71 win over Blackhawk High of Beaver Falls, Pa., in a semifinal game of the Cambria War Memorial Tournament at the War Memorial Arena.
That's six on a scale of one to 10.
"The defense played well, but we didn't get into it on offense," Pompey said. "I think we took a look at them and said they were kind of slow and tried to do too much one-on-one stuff."
Still, when the Poets needed to, they flexed their superior skills and quickness to keep the Cougars at bay and never trailed after building a 7-4 lead.
Dunbar will meet Philadelphia's Simon Gratz, the country's No. 3 team according to USA Today, in tonight's championship game at 8:30.
Gratz rolled past Johnstown, 73-50, in last night's other semifinal as 6-foot-10 junior Rasheed Wallace scored 25 points.
The Poets spent most of the game pulling away from the team from Beaver Falls, Pa., then allowing the Cougars to get back into the game with some sloppy ballhandling and poor decisions.
Dunbar built leads of as many as nine points early in the first half only to let the Cougars cut the lead to five. The Poets used a 10-3 run to close the half and build a 43-30 lead.
The Poets pushed their advantage to 15 early in the second half. But Blackhawk scored the first six points in the fourth quarter to cut Dunbar's lead to 59-55 with 7:05 left.
The Poets then used a 12-0 run to take a 71-55 lead and put Blackhawk away for good. Senior guard Michael Lloyd led that run with five points and finished with 33 points to lead all scorers.
"Everybody felt good with this being the opener, but we were kind of out of sync," said Lloyd, who also added four steals and four rebounds.
Senior center Donta Bright added 17 points and six rebounds for the Poets and junior forward Keith Booth also had 17 points along with a team-high nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Forward Dante Calabria, who has signed a national letter of intent with North Carolina, led Blackhawk with 23 points.
Blackhawk played the Poets tough, especially considering the Cougars were without two starters, who also are members of the school's football team, which will play in a state semifinal game today.
"It was very tough to play against them," said Lloyd. "They like to play a Princeton-type passing game. We like to run."
The Poets kept the Cougars off balance with their aggressive, ballhawking man-to-man defense. The Cougars committed 13 turnovers and also rushed several shots under heavy defensive pressure.
"We felt a little sluggish in the first half," said Booth. "As the season goes on, we'll get better."
Pompey said he did see some positives in last night's performance. "The defense picked it up in the second half and our two young kids [sophomores Michael Cooper and Alexander Mobley], that we brought off the bench, did a nice job. That was very encouraging. They helped out a lot."
Mobley came in at center, which allowed Bright to move to forward and face the basket, while Cooper came in at forward and gave the Poets some important rebounds as they held off the Cougars' late charge.
Pompey said that the one-on-one play was a big concern, however.
"With the schedule we have, playing one-on-one is not going to get it done," he said.