Dunbar High has the area's and the nation's No. 1 ranking. To hold those rankings, the Poets don't have to be devastating or even entertaining. All they have to do is win.
Last night, the Poets weren't very entertaining, nor were they devastating, but they did win their 41st straight game by turning back Southern, the area's No. 2 team, 66-56, at Morgan State University.
The final score was misleading, as the Poets (19-0) never were seriously challenged by the Bulldogs (11-4) in the second half of this matchup of Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference division leaders.
"We were under control the whole time," said Poets coach Pete Pompey, who used just one starter in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
Dunbar, which beat Southern for the fourth straight time since losing in the Metro Classic in 1990, built a seven-point halftime lead, then ran off 10 of the first 12 points of the second half to take control.
When Donta Bright broke free for a two-handed stuff with 4 minutes, 57 seconds remaining to put the Poets ahead, 56-36, many in the crowd of 6,250 began filing out of Hill Field House.
Bright, a senior center, led the Poets with 19 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Junior forward Keith Booth had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and senior guard Michael Lloyd had 12 points and four assists.
The Poets took away two big guns from the Bulldogs, shutting down 6-8 junior center Abdul Brown and 6-1 sophomore point guard Damon Cason. Brown scored three and Cason had five.
Pompey said it was important for Dunbar to shut down Cason, who was coming off three strong performances against St. Anthony (N.J.), St. Raymond's (N.Y.) and Lake Clifton.
"We wanted to let him know we were going to be tough on him," said Pompey. "We switched some guys off and on and made him work a little harder. We also wanted to make him work harder on defense, which we did once we got them out of that zone."
Senior guard Kwame Evans paced the Bulldogs with 23, and junior forward Kevin Simpson had 18.
"The game was never really totally out of reach," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "We had a couple of lapses. They [the Poets] had a spurt early in the third quarter that was very significant. That was the difference. In basketball you have a lot of spurts, and a timely spurt can win a game."
Southern played for the second straight game without senior forward Derrick Watkins, a starter. Smith would not comment on Watkins' absence other than to say that Watkins was dealing with personal problems at school. He would not say whether Watkins would rejoin the team, but did say that there was not a problem with Watkins' eligibility.
Smith was upbeat after the game. He pointed out that the Poets have faced nine nationally ranked opponents and start four seniors, and the Bulldogs have three sophomores among their starters. It was a moral victory if nothing else, he said.
"The kids played well," Smith said. "I thought it was a well-played ballgame. They [the Poets] haven't been challenged or tested like that in this city this year."
Still, the Poets never seemed too concerned about Southern after racing ahead early in the second half.
"They play with the flow of the game," said Pompey. "Our game is to get up and down the floor. When the game gets slow, they play slow."
Southern kept it at a slow pace in the first half to stay in the game. The Bulldogs sat back in a zone defense and dared the Poets to hit from the outside.
"To win, we thought we had to be very patient on offense, very deliberate," said Smith. "We didn't want to get into a racehorse game."
In the first quarter, the Poets built an 8-2 lead, with Booth scoring four. The Poets' lead was 11-4 before Evans scored on three straight layups to spark a 7-0 run, tying the game.
Lloyd hit three free throws and Bright hit a jumper to make it 16-11. Simpson got a layup and Evans got a breakaway dunk just before the buzzer to make it 16-15.
Southern took its first lead, 17-16, on a layup by Simpson on the first basket of the second quarter. The Bulldogs led by 21-20 before Cyrus Jones hit a three-pointer and Paul Banks hit a short jumper in the lane to make it 25-21, Dunbar.