The Lake Clifton boys basketball team has something special going on these days.
It starts with a flustering zone defense, continues with responsible work on the boards and is rounded out with unselfish play on offense.
The No. 5 Lakers had each facet working at a high level against No. 13 Poly on Friday, particularly in a dominating first half that sent them to a comfortable 61-45 home win over the Engineers.
The Lakers (16-2) won their ninth straight game and improved to 6-1 in Baltimore City's Division I.
Just how good are things going for them?
In Friday's win, the Lakers closed out each of the first three quarters with buzzer-beating 3-pointers. It was the defense, however, that helped them get out to a 29-14 halftime advantage over the Engineers, who made just four field goals in the first half and were unable to get close from there.
"The defense dictated the tempo of the game. That first half was a video display of defense. They played the way they talked, they had their hands up, they rotated, they forced the shots that we needed to get back on offense," Lake Clifton coach Herman "Tree" Harried said.
Senior guard Aaron Parks led the way with 16 points, 13 rebounds and whatever else was needed. Senior center Rodney Hawkins added 14 points, including two monstrous dunks, and guards James Boone and Lionel Green each chipped in with 11.
After Greg Butler hit a 3-pointer in the opening minute to give the Engineers (11-6, 4-3) a 3-0 lead, the Lake Clifton defense didn't allow another point until there was 16 seconds left in the first quarter. At that point, the home team had a 11-5 lead that increased to 14-5 when Parks hit a 3-pointer from the left corner as time expired.
A six-point spurt by the Lakers in the second quarter showed them at their complete best. Reserve forward Kevin Carr blocked a shot at one end, which started a fast-break opportunity finished off by Green at the other to give Lake Clifton a 22-12 lead with 3:14 left in the half. On the next possession, Daquan Ross turned a steal at midcourt into two more points and then Carr took a nifty pass from Green for an inside basket to make it 26-12. Just before the half, Boone gave the Lakers a 29-14 lead with another buzzer-beating 3. After Elijah Kess hit a long-range buzzer beater to end the third quarter, Parks gave the Lakers their biggest lead at 53-32 with a basket to open the fourth quarter.
"Whatever it takes for us to win, that's what I do," Parks said. "Rebound, score, run the team, whatever he wants me to do that's what I want to do as a leader."
Coming off a thrilling double-overtime upset win over No. 4 Patterson on Tuesday, the Engineers weren't able to pick up where they left off. Guard John Crosby led Poly with 17 points.
Poly coach Sam Brand said his team hadn't faced a defense that effective this season.
"They do a great job of covering ground and Coach Tree always has his team playing hard," he said. "It was just whether or not we were going to manage the zone and get good looks off it and we couldn't."
No. 5 Lake Clifton 61, No. 13 Poly 45
P – Crosby 17, Stokes-Graham 11, Butler 8, Hodge 7, Brown 2. Totals: 13 14-16 45.
LC –Parks 16, Hawkins 14, Boone 11, Green 11, Ross 4, Carr 2, Kess 3 . Totals: 23 11-18 61.
Half: LC, 29-14.