On a day when the Dunbar Poets played for a time as if they were walking in their sleep, Cyrus Jones, their sleepy-eyed, underrated senior guard, bailed them out again.
Jones scored 20 points, including 12 of the Poets' first 14 in the second quarter, when the nation's and the area's No. 1 team forged ahead of No. 2 Southern for good, en route to a 69-54 victory over the Bulldogs in a Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference semifinal last night at Morgan State.
"The things he [Jones] did on offense tonight were critical," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "He hit some big baskets. Every time we'd make a run, he'd hit a big three-pointer to stop us. Perhaps that was the biggest difference tonight."
The victory was the Poets' 51st straight and puts them in the conference title game against Walbrook at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Baltimore Arena as part of the Metro Classic. Walbrook beat Lake Clifton in last night's other semifinal, 76-70.
Dunbar will play that game without standout junior forward Keith Booth, who was thrown out of yesterday's game in the second half. He had thrown the ball at Southern's Kevin Simpson after Simpson had elbowed him while the two untangled near the scorer's table after a timeout was called. The officials apparently did not see the elbow, but Booth's retaliation was in clear view.
MSA rules stipulate that any player expelled from an MSA contest must sit out the next MSA contest.
"It was a poor decision to throw him out," said Dunbar coach Pete Pompey. "He should have thrown them both out. Not that that would help our situation any."
Last night, though, Jones helped Dunbar's situation quite a bit.
"We played a little sluggish in the first half," said Jones. "We were tired, and also we were thinking that since we won the first Southern game [66-56, Jan. 24], we were thinking all we had to do was show up. But Southern came out and played really hard."
The Poets (28-0), shooting for their second straight conference title, beat the Bulldogs, 93-74, Feb. 7.
All-Americans Donta Bright (18 points) and Michael Lloyd (five points) had subpar efforts for the Poets last night. Booth managed 12 after scoring 46 in the Poets' previous game against Northwestern.
On Sunday, Dunbar will face a fired-up Walbrook team that went from having to face the Poets in the semifinals to meeting them in the final.
However, after Southern had to forfeit nine victories Monday because it had used an ineligible player -- Derrick Watkins -- the Bulldogs were forced to face the Poets in the semifinals, and the Warriors took on Lake Clifton.
"We lose a good player [in Booth], but I think we're still a pretty good basketball team," said Pompey. "We just have to go in prepared."
The Poets didn't look too prepared early last night.
Damon Cason (21 points) paced Southern (10-14) to an 18-10, first-quarter lead with 10 points, including two three-pointers.
Southern used a 2-1-2 zone to cut off Dunbar's inside strength, with Booth and Bright and the penetration of guards Lloyd, Jones and Paul Banks.