WASHINGTON -- Southern is second only to Dunbar in The Baltimore Sun top 20, but it's a wider gap in national recognition between the Poets, ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Today, and the unranked Bulldogs.
Southern took a step toward closing that gap yesterday, routing Coolidge of Washington, 81-57, in the opening quarterfinal of the Gonzaga Classic at American University's Bender Arena.
Next up for Southern (3-0) will be Christ the King of New York, ranked 11th by USA Today, in a semifinal today at 2 p.m. Christ the King defeated Forestville's Bishop McNamara, 90-67, in another quarterfinal yesterday.
Senior guard Kwame Evans led the Bulldogs with 20 points and added three blocks. Sophomore point guard Damon Cason scored 19, and forward Kevin Simpson had 14.
Cason, 6-foot, effectively ran the Southern offense against Coolidge's pressing defense, handing out nine assists.
"We're pleased with the execution on both sides of the ball," said Cason. "We hit the boards, ran the floor, and pretty much did what coach Smith wanted us to do."
Most of the Southern's underclassmen -- Evans and Derrick Watkins are the only seniors -- got considerable playing time yesterday in the second half after the Bulldogs had built a 40-24 halftime lead.
"We're happy with this, but not satisfied," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "Our defensive and offensive execution was superb in the first half, but we can do better."
Perhaps, but the Bulldogs appeared at the top of their game yesterday against Coolidge (3-4), particularly in racing to a 25-7 first-quarter advantage by converting 11 of 20 field goals.
Coolidge did not help itself with 16 first-half turnovers. Southern extended its lead to 38-14, before turning the ball over on eight of its last 10 first-half possessions.
"When we get the big leads, we seem to put it on cruise control," said Smith. "We've got to stay focused because, against the good teams, you're going to have to keep it going for 32 minutes."
Coolidge opened the second half with a 12-4 spurt, pulling within 42-26 before the Bulldogs went on a 10-4 run to make it 52-30 with 3:05 remaining in the third quarter.
"This is one of our goals," said Evans, referring to the possibility of winning the tournament. "It's an opportunity to get some respect, not only in the area, but on a national level."
"We just want go out focusing on winning each game," said Smith. "We know we have a tough game against Christ the King, and just like today [yesterday] against Coolidge, we will only be focused on Christ the King."