Just in case there were any doubts that Dunbar High is far and away the area's best team, the nationally and locally top-ranked Poets put them to rest last night.
No. 3 Lake Clifton offered the Poets the toughest challenge by a local opponent, but the Poets shifted into high gear and ran away from the talented and quick Lakers, 91-76, last night before 5,125 at Morgan State.
The victory, their 44th in a row overall, improved the Poets' record to 21-0 overall, 5-0 in the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference's Division I. It also gave the Poets wins over the area's No. 2 (Southern) and No. 3 teams over a seven-day period.
Lake Clifton (10-3, 5-2) was within five of the Poets with 6 minutes, 29 seconds left in the third period, but the Poets built a 63-50 lead after three quarters, then turned in what may have been their best fourth quarter, racing to leads of as many as 21 points.
"We knew it would be like that from the jump," said Dunbar junior Keith Booth. "We knew it would be an old East Baltimore dogfight. We just came out and played hard. We executed on defense, and that made our offense go. We turned it up a notch in the fourth quarter."
No one was more responsible than Booth for taking the fight out of the Lakers. He scored 20, grabbed 16 rebounds, dished out seven assists and had four steals.
"He was a monster on boards in the first half, then came out in the second half and handled the ball, which meant we were able to post Mike [Lloyd] down low on smaller kids," said Poets coach Pete Pompey.
The Poets got solid all-around efforts from the big three of Booth, Lloyd and Donta Bright. Lloyd had 22 points, six rebounds and six assists. Bright had 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
The Poets also got good performances from their other starters -- Paul Banks and Cyrus Jones. Banks had eight points and eight assists, and Jones had 21 points and four steals.
Lake Clifton also had balance. Freshman guard Shawnta Rogers overcame a slow start to finish with 18. Senior forward David Lang also had 18. Junior center Terrance Payne had 16 points, and junior guard Kevin Norris had 13.
"They played hard," said Lakers coach Charlie Moore. "You can't ask for more than that. They played defense in spurts. We had to be patient, spread the floor, play good defense and get back on the break. Three of the four things we did pretty good. We were down by five points with seven minutes to go but we didn't get back on the break. They got some dunks, got the crowd back into the game and that was it."
The Lakers overcame a poor shooting performance (31 of 81) to push the Poets, who had been rolling over local competition.
The Lakers trailed by 29-14 in the second quarter but used a 7-3 run at the end of the quarter cut the Poets' lead to 38-30.
The Lakers scored four of the first five points of the second half to get within 39-34, but the Poets ran off four straight to increase their advantage to 43-34.
The Lakers cut the lead to six points three times before the Poets scored four straight to make it 53-43. The Lakers didn't get closer than eight the rest of the quarter, as the Poets built a 63-50 lead.
In a wide-open, fast-breaking fourth quarter, the Poets hit 12 of 19 shots and never led by fewer than 14 to turn back the Lakers, who made just 11 of 24 shots in the final quarter.
"We made some adjustments at halftime," Pompey said. "We had to move our intensity level up. Lake is very, very quick. I think that's one of the things we didn't focus on. It made a lot of things happen. It brought the score back down, but then you saw us take it up to another level. They mounted a serious challenge. Our size inside and experience in games like this made the difference."