Southern makes case for No. 1 in country

January 31, 1994|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,Contributing Writer

At 10:40 Saturday night, Southern-Baltimore held up the championship trophy for the Southeast bracket at the First National Bank Charm City Classic.

The moment was significant because it was the official coronation of Southern as a national power after its 65-58 victory over Rice (N.Y.), the country's No. 1 team.

Sure, the Bulldogs entered the weekend tournament at Loyola College with the No. 4 ranking by USA Today and the area's top ranking.

But before a 72-71 come-from-behind victory Dec. 18 over Dunbar, ranked No. 8 nationally at the time, the Bulldogs had failed in seven consecutive attempts against nationally ranked teams.

Those doubts were ended, and Southern (11-0) laid a claim to the No. 1 ranking in the country after the win over Rice and a 74-68 victory over No. 6 and defending national champion Simon Gratz of Philadelphia on Friday night. This week's USA Today Super 25 will be released tomorrow.

Before a sellout crowd of 3,100 at Reitz Arena on Saturday, Southern's victory extended the state's longest winning streak to 24 games. Southern's last loss came at last year's Charm City Classic, 60-54, to Dunbar (D.C.).

Although the Bulldogs will have to climb over No. 2 King of Chicago and No. 3 Oak Hill Academy of Virginia -- both of which won their games last week -- for the nation's top ranking, they returned respect to Baltimore. City teams went winless in six games last year at the Charm City Classic.

"We played real hard for this game," said Southern senior Kevin Simpson. "Our coach told us if we crashed the boards, we had a chance to win."

While most of the attention went to Rice's Felipe Lopez, considered the country's top player, Simpson earned the Southeast bracket outstanding player honors. In two games, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard scored 59 points and had 25 rebounds.

Senior forward Dante Williams (32 points, 10 rebounds), who was named to the all-Southeast team, scored 21 points Saturday. He helped slow Lopez, who finished with 16 points on only 5-for-17 shooting.

"He [Williams] held a person that was averaging around 30 points a game to half his production -- I think he did a tremendous job," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "He played him better than anybody has played him in the country this year."

Lopez, who scored 30 points, including a running 30-foot jumper the buzzer in the second overtime to turn away Dunbar, 63-60, on Friday, left impressed with the Bulldogs.

"They looked good," said Lopez, a 6-foot-5 senior swingman. "They played an excellent game and I wish them the best."

Said Rice coach Lou DeMello: "Tonight, they wanted to beat us. They were aggressive with the ball offensively and stayed on the glass, which was our weakness. They got to the ball quicker than us."

Southern maintained its composure throughout an intense and physical game that included a near confrontation between the teams near midcourt during warm-ups for the second half.

"This is a team effort," said Smith, whose team plays at No. 3 Southwestern tomorrow. "Each kid's success is in part attributed to the rest of the kids."

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