Southern freshman point guard Damon Cason and Dunbar junior center Donta Bright each came off the bench to spark their teams to victories in last night's Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference semifinals at Morgan State.
Bright, who was not in the starting lineup because he broke a minor team rule, entered the game late in the first quarter and scored a season-high 34 points to lead the Poets to an 81-69 win over Lake Clifton.
Cason, who has spent most of this season as an understudy to his older brother David, stepped to the forefront yesterday with 17 points and 15 assists to lead Southern to a 64-49 victory over Mount St. Joseph (21-11). David Cason, slowed by the flu, started but did not play after the first quarter.
Dunbar (26-1) and Southern (17-5) will meet in the conference championship game in the Metro Classic Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Baltimore Arena, a rematch of last year's game, which the Bulldogs won. Dunbar has beaten Southern this season, 81-41 and 59-55.
In the first game Southern led, 11-6, after the first quarter but bolted ahead, 34-19, at halftime, as Damon Cason and John Salley each scored seven. By the end of the third quarter, the Bulldogs were cruising, 48-29.
"He played tremendous," Southern coach Meredith Smith said of Damon. "I have confidence in him. I know he can play if he settles down. He plays with a lot of poise for a freshman."
The other key for Southern was rebounding. The Bulldogs out-rebounded the No. 13 Gaels, 54-20, including a 29-11 advantage at halftime.
Forward Che Evans led Southern with 19 rebounds. He also had six points and five blocked shots. Salley had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Kwame Evans had 16 points.
Senior guard Ronald Issacs led Mount St. Joseph with 14 points, and senior guard Darrin Jones had 10 points.
In the second game, Bright ignited the Poets, who had more trouble out of the Lakers than in their previous meetings, which the Poets won by 15 and 14 points.
The Poets geared their offense more toward Bright than in
Sunday's win over Southern when he scored just five, partly because of foul trouble.
"We've been facing so many zones we knew we had to do something different," said Dunbar coach Pete Pompey.
With senior guard Ronnie Van Hook (14 first-half points) leading the way the way, the No. 4 Lakers (14-6) trailed, 41-38, at halftime.
But Bright got the Poets going in the third quarter, as they began to pull away. He scored 10, as the Poets used 6-2 and 7-0 runs to build a 61-52 lead after three quarters.
The key play may have occurred at the end of the period, when the Lakers trailed, 59-52, and had a chance to cut the deficit.
Dunbar's Michael Lloyd stripped Van Hook in the backcourt and went in for a reverse dunk to put the Poets ahead, 61-52. The Lakers never got closer than seven in the fourth quarter.
Lloyd, a junior guard, finished with just nine points for the Poets but dished out 10 assists. Senior guard Terrance Alexander had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Although his team had less trouble out of the Lakers in the two previous meetings, Pompey said he was not bothered yesterday by his team's inability to pull away from the Lakers until the third quarter.
"I think it's a combination of us being too familiar with them and them being familiar with us," he said. "We're probably not doing things with the same intensity we were earlier in the year. It's an incredible thing to do to beat three very good teams [Lake Clifton, Dunbar of Washington and Southern] three times. That's a bit much to ask, but I hope they answer the call one more time."