For most of three quarters, No. 2 Southern High struggled to keep pace with No. 3 Lake Clifton. But the Bulldogs took over in the latter part of the third quarter and were in control in the fourth, as they turned back the Lakers, 82-77, before 2,500 at Morgan State last night.
The Bulldogs ran off the final six points of the third quarter and the first eight of the fourth quarter to erase a 57-51 lead and take the lead for good at 65-57.
Southern (11-3) built leads of as much as 10, then held off a late charge by the Lakers (8-2). Lake Clifton's Kevin Norris hit a three-pointer with three seconds left to cut the Bulldogs' lead to 80-77. Southern's Damon Cason closed out the scoring with two free throws.
"We were able to execute better in the second half," said Southern coach Meredith Smith, whose team trailed by four at the half. "We were able to pass and make the cuts to the basket, which we weren't doing in the first half."
Cason, a sophomore point guard, led the Bulldogs with 26 points. Junior forward Kevin Simpson had 18 and senior guard Kwame Evans added 16.
Sophomore forward Donte Williams came off the bench to score eight for the Bulldogs, including four during the 8-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs' 6-foot-5 senior forward Derrick Watkins did not play because of personal problems, Smith said. Smith would not say whether Watkins, a starter, would be back for Friday's showdown with No. 1 Dunbar.
Senior forward Anthony Lang paced the Lakers with 26 points and Norris had 23.
Lake Clifton did not get a good performance out of standout freshman Shawnta Rogers. The 5-5 guard scored a season-low seven points.
Rogers, who scored 38 in an upset of Walbrook two weeks ago, hit one of 10 field-goal attempts and five of 11 free throws. He was 0-for-8 from three-point range and finished with two assists.
"I just couldn't hit anything. I was a little flat," said Rogers, who entered the game averaging 25.0 points. "It was just one of those things that happens. It wasn't as much their defense, it was just that I couldn't convert when I had the opportunities."
Lang, a quick 6-3 forward, practically carried the Lakers for three quarters with 24 points but scored just two in the last quarter.
Lang scored 10 and Norris had eight as the Lakers raced to a 40-36 halftime lead. The Lakers finished the half with an 8-2 run to erase a 34-32 Southern lead and build their four-point advantage.
"I didn't think there was a problem in the first half," said Smith. "Our key players got into foul trouble and we had to sit them down. We had to make adjustments."
The Bulldogs, who hit 14 of 30 shots in the first half, warmed up in the third quarter hitting nine of 12. Evans completed an 8-0 run with a stuff tying the game at 46 with 4 minutes, 43 seconds left.
The Lakers pushed the lead to 57-51, but missed six field-goal attempts, four free throws and turned the ball over three times and the Bulldogs finished the quarter with their 6-0 run and started the fourth with an 8-0 run.
"This is a young squad," said Lakers coach Charlie Moore. "We just hit a stretch where our youth showed. I'm proud of them. They played hard. We were in it until the end, but missing those free throws hurt."