Southern takes serious approach Looking for redemption: After missing a chance for a third straight state title last season, the Bulldogs are setting their sights high again.

March 07, 1996|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After winning the state 4A championship two seasons ago, in a celebration move uncustomary for basketball, a couple of Southern players doused coach Meredith Smith with a bucket of water on the court of Cole Field House.

The No. 3 Bulldogs will be back at Cole tonight, where they will meet Paint Branch of Montgomery County, ranked No. 20 by the Washington Post, in a state Class 4A semifinal game at 9 p.m.

If Southern is successful and wins its third state title in four seasons, there's a good possibility there won't be any post-game antics like those of two seasons ago.

The Bulldogs (22-3), ranked No. 16 in this week's USA Today Super 25, have taken a serious attitude this season, including cutting out media interviews in the past month.

"They do seem to be more focused in a lot of areas," said Smith, whose career record is 307-197 in 16 seasons. "Out of the starting five, three have qualified academically [for college]. In a general sense, they are more focused overall."

The Bulldogs missed an opportunity at a third straight state championship last season, losing to eventual state champion Lake Clifton in the regional finals. Moments after the final buzzer, John Hemsley, who had carried the Bulldogs to that point, sat on the bench, drinking a cup of water in disappointment and watching Lake Clifton's celebration.

Last Friday, Hemsley got redemption and a chance to enjoy his post-game cup of water, scoring 18 points in the Bulldogs' 70-65 victory over the Lakers, ending Lake Clifton's run at a second consecutive state title.

Though Hemsley, the area's top senior, hasn't put up the big numbers he did in his junior season, averaging 17.4 points and 8.8 rebounds this season, his solid all-around play has complemented the vast improvement in his teammates' overall performance.

"People have tremendously given him a bum rap," Smith said of the 6-foot-6 forward. "He has had a great season. He plays the game that he needs to play for us to be successful."

The backcourt of Dedric Galloway (19.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Marlin Wise (12.3 ppg, 14.5 apg) may have been the area's most consistent this season. Kofi Pointer (13.4 ppg, 16.5 rpg) and Brian Kennedy (eight rebounds) have each stepped up their game.

"They are a very fundamentally sound team," said Lake Clifton coach Charlie Moore. "Their starting five is as good as any in the city."

Southern, which has been ranked nationally all season, reached the No. 5 position before losses to Rice of New York (Capital City Challenge) and St. Anthony's of New Jersey, the country's No. 1 team (Charm City Classic) ended any hopes of contending for a national title.

The Bulldogs finished No. 2 in the country two seasons ago with Damon Cason (Towson State), Kevin Simpson (Providence) and Alphonso Hawes (Hagerstown Junior College), and beat Springbrook of Montgomery County in the state 4A title game.

Smith said he was expecting to see Springbrook or Montgomery Blair in (today's or tomorrow's) semifinals, but both were upset by Paint Branch, which had lost twice to those teams during the regular season.

The winner of tonight's game will meet either No. 7 Annapolis (21-5) or Northwestern of Prince George's County (16-6), ranked No. 7 by the Washington Post, for the state title, Saturday night at 8.

"If the season's any indication of whether or not these kids are ready, usually we have been pretty focused," said Smith, who is 15-1 in the state tournament. "These games are the biggest games of the season because they do culminate with the state championship. I think they'll be ready."

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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