The New Town boys basketball team had a third quarter to remember in Friday's Class 2A North regional championship game against visiting Dunbar.
It featured relentless defense and an efficient outburst of offense.
The No. 3 Titans wreaked havoc in the passing lanes and blocked shots at one end, and hit 3-pointers and attacked the basket at the other.
Leading by two points going into the pivotal quarter, New Town stretched it to as many as 15 to gain the necessary cushion to come away with a 66-53 win over the No. 10 Poets.
Senior guard Matthew Johnson led the way with 22 points as the Titans (21-2) advance to next week's state tournament.
New Town, which won the Class 1A state crown last year, will meet South region champ Gwynn Park in the semifinal round set for 7 p.m. Friday at Maryland's Xfinity Center.
Like it has been all season, scrappy defense is what paved the way for the Titans.
"We had to play hard to get the win," Johnson said. "We had to turn it up, play harder, play smarter, get rebounds, play more defense and score the ball. Defense wins championships and that's what we're striving for."
Leading 24-22 at the half, New Town found its range on offense right from the start when senior forward Quincy Roche hit a smooth turnaround jumper on the opening possession of the third quarter.
From there, Johnson accounted for five points, including a 3-pointer, and fellow senior guard Devin Smith (13 points) added two baskets. When junior Rashad Faust hit a 3-pointer with 2:20 left in the quarter, the Titans had a 42-27 lead. Roche provided the biggest defensive play in the run — a forceful block on Lee Parham's shot that helped set the tone.
The biggest applause from the packed home crowd came when, after a made basket, the Titans settled into their zone defense and slapped their hands on the floor in unison to get further amped on defense.
"The third quarter we came out very strong. It feels very good, especially playing at home where I think we're undefeated, knowing that you can get the crowd into it, play good defense and that gets our offense going well, too," Smith said.
The Poets (16-9) fought hard to get back in the game, getting within six points twice in the fourth quarter. But the Titans always had an answer. Christopher Fitzgerald (12 points) hit his third 3-pointer of the game to make it 49-40 with 6:22 left. Later, with the lead at 51-45, Smith converted a three-point play that started a 7-0 run to put the game away with under three minutes remaining.
Freshman Jalen Willis led Dunbar with 20 points, while sophomore Dashawn Phillips added 12.
"We had defensive lapses. We can't give up opportunities like that during the course of any game, especially in a caliber game like this," Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones Sr. said. "We're young and we basically folded at the wrong time. We still came back, gave a fight, made a run, but once again we let some opportunities get away. When you're playing a great team, you can't let opportunities get away."
Class 2A North
3 New Town 66, 10 Dunbar 53
D – Willis 20, Tazewell 7, Phillips 12, Esguerra 9, Moore 2, Parham 1, Darien 2. Totals: 20 9-18 53
NT – Fitzgerald 12, Smith 13, Roche 4, Johnson 22, Faust 7, Carter 2, Ferrell 6. Totals: 23 12-17 66
Half: NT, 24-22