Well played and tightly contested throughout, Thursday night's showdown between No. 1 Dunbar and No. 2 Milford Mill only needed one thing in the fourth quarter — a player to make the difference.
Milford Mill senior forward Kyle Thomas was the man.
Thomas scored eight of his game-high 18 points in the fourth, and also had three huge blocks to keep the Millers close. Fellow senior forward Isaiah Miles helped with two follow baskets in the final two minutes, and senior guard Tyson Smith chipped in a last-second deflection to give the Millers a 55-53 win at the 16th annual Basketball Academy at Lake Clifton.
Dunbar, which took over the No. 1 ranking last week after defeating then-No.1 Patterson on Jan. 13, fell for the first time this season and now sits at 13-1. Milford Mill, which dominated the inside most of the way with Miles adding 12 points, improved to 13-1.
"That fourth quarter, I knew defense was going to be important and I was just telling my team to step up, and we all did," Thomas said. "Oh man, this feels great. I've wanted to beat Dunbar for a long, long time."
When Thomas banked a driving layup with 3:02 to play, the score was tied for the game's 10th time, at 51. Key stops defensively and the two inside baskets from Miles gave the Millers a 55-51 advantage with 1:28 remaining. After Dunbar guard Rodrick Harrison cut the lead to 55-53 with 1:13 left, the Poets had three possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead, but the Millers responded on defense.
In the closing seconds, Dunbar senior guard Evan Singletary (16 points including four three pointers) appeared to have an open look behind the three-point line in the right corner, but Smith, a senior guard, closed quickly to deflect the shot. Dunbar senior Donte Pretlow ended up with the ball underneath the basket, but his shot rimmed out.
"Defense is what made the difference, and that's all we worked on in practice," Thomas said. "We knew defense was going to win us the game, and that's what it came down to."
In addition to the 10 ties, the game featured 10 lead changes, and neither team enjoyed a lead bigger than four points. The packed house at Lake Clifton was appreciative, many declaring the game fit the bill as No. 1 vs. No. 2.
"We've been in a lot of these, so we talked about being composed and just playing like men and that's what they did down the stretch," Milford Mill coach Albert Holley said. "This was an opportunity for people to see we are one of the best. Any time you do anything you want people to believe you're the best, so I think this proves that tonight,"
For Dunbar, Harrison finished with 10 points, while Pretlow and Aaron Parham each scored eight. Milford Mill guard Chase Cormier finished with eight points, and Katrell Myers added six.
No. 2 Milford Mill 55, No. 1 Dunbar 53
D – Pretlow 8, Singletary 16, Parham 8, Harrison 10, Pettiford 4, Gibson 7. Totals: 19 9-13 53.
MM – Miles 12, Cormier 8, Myers 6, Smith 5, Thomas 18, Jackson 1, Solomon 3, Lee 2. Totals: 23 8-14 55.