That didn't come so easily Friday night at emerging Poly.
Trailing for much of the game and down by as many as eight points in the second quarter, the Poets proved precise in closing out a game, dominating the fourth quarter at both ends to finally shake the No. 13 Engineers, 58-51, and remain undefeated.
Senior point guard Donte Pretlow took charge of the fourth quarter, dishing four of his eight assists to go with eight points. The Poets (13-0) enjoyed balance on offense, with Gavin Pettiford (13 points) and Aaron Parham (10 points) playing strong inside, and Rod Harrison (12 points on a three pointer in each quarter) and Evan Singletary (11 points) contributing from the perimeter.
Trailing 45-43 after three, the Poets limited the Engineers (9-4) to just one field goal in the first 5:45 of the fourth quarter. Harrison hit a 3-pointer and Parham followed with two inside baskets off feeds from Pretlow to help the Poets take the lead for good. The Engineers missed all five free throw attempts in the quarter, helping Dunbar take a 53-47 advantage.
"We came into the game knowing it was going to be a dogfight and, for the most part, that's what it was," Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones said. "We got down early, they came out hitting some shots, they had a lot of adrenaline flowing, and we were able to take their best punches and get it at the end — that's what it's all about."
The Engineers, who got a game-high 17 points from Greg Butler, were able to go step for step with the Poets early and seemed to grow more confident as the game went on. After Butler hit a 3-pointer with 4:33 left in the first half, Darrion Stokes-Graham turned an air ball into an easy basket underneath to give Poly a 28-20 lead.
But the Poets didn't panic, scoring the last six points of the half and then staying close until they proved more efficient and poised in the fourth quarter.
"Every chance [Jones] got, every time out, [he] told us we had to stay mentally tough," Pretlow said. "We were at their home, a tough place to play. They had their crowd behind them. Just come out and don't pay no mind and be mentally tough. Come out execute and do what we do. That showed at the end. We pulled it together."
Poly coach Sam Brand said the poor foul shooting in the fourth quarter played a big role in the outcome, and it was something he hadn't seen much of in his team's breakthrough season.
"I'm just extremely proud of the guys' effort, [but] disappointed we didn't finish with a win because I knew we were capable of winning," he said. "We're going to keep working and keep grinding."
Chaz Brown also reached double figures for the Engineers with 10 points.
No. 1 Dunbar 58, No. 13 Poly 51
D – Pettiford 13, Harrison 12, Singletary 11, Parham 10, Pretlow 8, Brown 2, Gross 2. Totals: 22 7-12 58.
P – Butler 17, Stokes-Graham 14, Brown 10, Hodge 8, Crosby 2. Totals: 22 2-10 51.
Half: P, 28-26