No. 2 ranked Southern High took an important step toward a third straight appearance in the MSA A Conference title game by beating host and No. 7 Cardinal Gibbons, 67-49, yesterday.
The victory assured the Bulldogs (16-4, 8-0) of at least second place in the conference's Division II, where the first two teams make the playoffs.
Gibbons' loss, coupled with second-place Walbrook's 77-60 win over Calvert Hall yesterday, knocks the Crusaders (21-10, 4-4) out of contention. Walbrook (13-8, 7-2) clinched a spot behind Eric Carroll's 27 points and Jermaine Porter's 14 at host and No. 16 Calvert Hall (12-11, 2-6). Southern plays at No. 5 Walbrook Friday night.
No. 3 Lake Clifton (13-3, 7-2) clinched a Division I playoff berth, defeating host Southwestern (2-6, 7-10), 74-69. Shawnta Rogers scored 19 and Anthony Lang added 18 as the Lakers clinched at least a second-place finish. They meet first-place Dunbar Friday night at Morgan State.
In the Southern win, senior guard Kwame Evans led the Bulldogs with 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and sophomore guard Damon Cason had 14 points and 14 assists. Sophomore forward Dante Williams added 16 points.
"Coach told us if we win two of our last three we definitely have a playoff berth, so we wanted to come in and get this win out of the way," said Evans. "We beat a good team."
Southern led almost from start to finish. But the Bulldogs had to fight off several rallies by the Crusaders before finally putting them away by scoring 18 of the game's final 25 points.
"I thought our poise won the game," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "It seemed like there was a tremendous amount of pressure. Gibbons made some significant runs and made some significant cuts in our lead, but the kids remained poised each time and returned with an even greater rally."
Senior guard Quintin Moody, who has signed with Towson State, paced Gibbons with 20, hitting five of 12 shots. Three other Gibbons starters -- Chuckie Lee (nine points), Troy Queen (four) and Damon Fleary (two) -- were a combined 3-for-22 from the field.
Still, Gibbons stayed within striking distance for most of the contest, countering Southern's height and talent advantage with quickness and patience on offense.
Gibbons fell behind 12-3 in the first quarter and 16-9 at the end of the period. The Crusaders trailed by 12 in the second quarter, but got within four before Southern built a 32-25 halftime lead.
Gibbons again got within four in the third quarter, but Southern led 43-36 at the end of the period after leading by as much as 10. Gibbons scored the first basket of the fourth quarter to get within 43-38, but Southern put together a 6-2 run to make it 49-40, then ran off eight of the next 10 to take control at 57-42 with two minutes left.
"We had them right where we wanted them for almost three quarters," said Gibbons coach Ray Mullis. "We were changing defenses and playing hard, awfully hard. For a team like ours to play with a team like them when they have us outsized at every position, we were right there. It certainly wasn't an 18-point game."