MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Dave Krider, the writer who ranks high school basketball teams for USA Today, had a message for No. 1 Dunbar after the Poets edged No. 13 Simon Gratz, 55-53, in the championship game of the Beach Ball Classic last night.
"I told them when they get back to Baltimore they had better play more like the team I saw in the first half tonight," he said jokingly.
The team Krider and nearly 3,500 others who packed into the Socastee High gymnasium saw in the first half against Philadelphia's Simon Gratz, looked unbeatable.
The Poets (11-0) raced to a 42-24 lead, beating Gratz (10-3), the defending tournament champ, at nearly every facet of the game.
But in the second half the Poets managed just 13 points and needed a layup at the buzzer by senior center Donta Bright off a miss by forward Keith Booth to win.
"I just put it off the glass and the ball just dropped in," said Bright, who was voted the tournament's most valuable player. "I knew it was good when it left my hand."
Gratz, which lost to the Poets 52-49 three weeks ago, actually blew two opportunities to take the lead after rallying from 18 down. Highly touted 6-foot-11 center Rasheed Wallace, who was held to seven points by the 6-6 Bright, tied the game at 53 with 1:31 left with a free throw, but missed the second one.
Sophomore guard Shawn Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one with the score still tied at 53 and 44 seconds left.
Just how bad was Dunbar's second-half performance?
Bright's layup was Dunbar's only field goal in the final 6:30. The rebound was one of just two offensive rebounds for the Poets in the second half.
After making 17 of 29 first-half shots (58.6 percent), the Poets made just four of 17 in the second half and turned the ball over 10 times. Theyhad just one field goal in the third quarter.
With 1:15 left in the third quarter, Gratz's Contrell Scott (18 points) missed two free throws but grabbed his second miss and laid it in to cut Dunbar's lead to 47-40 after three quarters.
There were five Dunbar players occupying the lanes. Scott was the only Gratz player at that end of the court. The other four were at the defensive end as is customary for Gratz on free-throw attempts.
"We went to sleep," Dunbar coach Pete Pompey said.
The Poets were haunted by inconsistency throughout the tournament despite pushing their win streak to 34.
At times the Poets had the crowds on its feet. Moments later those same fans would be scratching their heads, wondering if it was the same team.
"We came out sluggish in the second half as usual," Bright said. "When we get back in the gym we have to get our legs back. We've been on the road for three weeks, but when we get our legs back we won't lose leads like that."
Bright finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. For the tournament he had 66 points, 41 rebounds and 10 blocks.
Bright was selected to the all-tournament team along with senior guard Michael Lloyd and Booth, a junior.
Lloyd, who had 12 last night, had tournament totals of 58 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists and five steals.