ARLINGTON, Va. -- No. 2-ranked Southern took its "we try harder" campaign for national recognition on the road for the second straight week and showed nothing to disprove its fans' belief that the Bulldogs, like top-ranked Dunbar, are one of the top high school basketball teams in the nation.
Displaying a tenacious pressing defense, sparked by sophomore point guard Damon Cason (nine steals) and senior forward Kwame Evans, Southern outscored Quince Orchard of Montgomery County 33-8 in a brilliant third quarter en route to an 89-44 victory in the opening round of the D.C. Armory Board-Trills Holiday Classic at Bishop O'Connell High School yesterday.
The Bulldogs will face unbeaten Parkdale (4-0), the defending MPSSAA champion, ranked No. 17 in the D.C. area, in tonight's first semifinal game at 7:30 when the tournament switches to Georgetown's McDonough Arena. The championship game will be 9:15 p.m. tomorrow, also at McDonough. The Panthers advanced with an 84-80 victory over James Madison (Va.) in their opening game.
The Southern victory set a tournament record for points in a game, breaking the record of 88 set by W. T. Woodson in 1989. It was the Bulldogs' third victory in the D.C. area in the past week, improving their record to 6-1. The Bulldogs' only loss came in overtime in the semifinals of last week's Gonzaga-D.C. Classic, against unbeaten Christ the King of Queens, N.Y., ranked No. 11 nationally in USA Today.
Southern wasted little time taking charge against Quince Orchard (3-3). Evans scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the first quarter as the Bulldogs went over, around and through the Cougars' zone for an 18-6 first-quarter lead that improved to 35-21 at halftime.
With Cason and Evans stepping up the defensive pressure and senior forward Derrick Watkins chipping in with 14 of his 23 points, the Bulldogs scored the first 17 points (8-for-9 from the field) of the second half in a little more than three minutes, while limiting the turnover-hampered Cougars to one shot in the first four minutes of the third quarter.
"We try to build our game from the outset," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "In the second half, we really put our defense into action. We're never satisfied until the game's over and we can look up at the scoreboard to see that win."
Southern hit on 15 of 18 field-goal attempts in the third quarter, building a 68-29 lead after three quarters.
Evans finished with 12-for-18 shooting in the game and combined with junior center Abdul Brown for 17 rebounds, as the Bulldogs dominated the boards, 36-20. Cason, who scored 17 points, also picked up eight assists in a superb job at point guard.
Smith knows that his opposition will be stiffer in the next two games, with Parkdale and then one of two D.C. powers, No. 3 Dunbar and No. 14 Archbishop Carroll, lurking in the other half of the draw.
"We like the quality of that kind of competition," said Smith. "It's what we need to sharpen us up for our own regular [MSA] season."
And an eventual showdown with those top-ranked Poets of Dunbar.