ERIE, Pa. -- Is Dunbar really the best high school basketball team in the country?
Oak Hill coach Steve Smith was convinced after the Poets defeated his team, ranked No. 4 in the nation by USA Today, 66-57, in a semifinal of the McDonald Classic at Gannon University on Friday night.
"They are the best we've played so far," said Smith, whose team is 16-2 and also has lost to No. 16 Philadelphia Learning Center.
"We've played some teams that really got after us defensively, maybe more than they [the Dunbar Poets] did, but they [the other teams] weren't nearly as talented. They couldn't do things offensively like Dunbar. They have a lot of firepower. It's not like it's one guy."
The win over Oak Hill pushed the Poets' record to 13-0 this season and their win streak to 35 games. It also marked their seventh win over a nationally ranked team this season.
So far, the Poets have beaten Simon Gratz twice -- when it was ranked No. 3 and No. 13; New York St. Raymond's (then No. 2), Maryland Harker Prep (10), Tennessee Fairley (15) and Kentucky Male (23).
The Poets still have some tough contests scheduled. They meet nationally ranked St. Raymond's (12th) and New Jersey St. Anthony's (third) in the Charm City Classic next weekend at Towson State. They take on Southern, the Baltimore area's No. 2 team, at Morgan State on Jan. 28.
Oak Hill probably offered Dunbar its stiffest test of the season. The Warriors have height and talent, particularly two high school All-Americans, 6-foot-7 Chris Davis, who has signed with Kansas, and 6-8 Martice Moore, who has signed with Georgia Tech.
Early Friday it seemed that the Poets might be in trouble as Oak Hill raced to a 12-2 lead, but Dunbar, which has had a habit of playing down to the level of the competition at times, quickly raised its game. The Poets trailed 14-11 at the end of the first quarter, but led 32-24 at the half.
"We beat a very, very good basketball team with a tremendous amount of talent, an outstanding program," said Poets coach Pete Pompey. "It was an honor to have knocked off a team like that."
Pompey also was pleased because his team kept up its intensity throughout the contest, although Oak Hill did get within three midway through the fourth quarter before senior guard Cyrus Jones (10 points, three assists, two steals) sparked a Poets rally to put the game away.
"We stayed focused because they have a good team," said senior center Donta Bright, who finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, fives steals, five assists and two blocks. "In my ninth-grade year, they beat us and I always wanted to play them again to get revenge."
Bright and the rest of the Poets were effective in containing Oak Hill's Davis and Moore. Each scored four in the first half.
"From top to bottom, they [Poets] are tough," said Smith, whose teams were 56-1 from 1989 to 1991. "They had us playing their style. We just struggled on offense and didn't move the ball. We didn't do the things we normally do. We didn't execute well. You have to give them credit."