The last time Dunbar faced a top-notch Baltimore County team, it routed Milford Mill in the state 1A regional final last season. The Poets were spurred on in that game by comments by some Milford Mill players in an newspaper article preceding the game.
Last night, No. 5 Woodlawn gained a rare opportunity to face Dunbar in the Fuel Fund Classic at the Baltimore Arena. And while the Warriors didn't spend the time preceding the matchup shooting off at the mouth, their shooting proved to have the damaging effect.
Before an estimated crowd of over 2,000, the No. 3 Poets, ranked No. 17 in this week's USA Today Super 25, defeated the Warriors, 61-40, ending Woodlawn's regular-season winning streak at 39 games.
Senior forward Rodney Elliott scored 16 points and pulled down 15 rebounds for the Poets (16-3). Billy Wells also scored 16 for Dunbar. Brian Stubbs scored 11 points to lead Woodlawn (16-1) and Donte Dudley had eight.
Dudley, last season's Baltimore Sun Baltimore County Player of the Year, was playing in only his second game since returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
He left the game late in the second half when he reinjured the knee after jumping up to block a shot by Tommy Polley and coming down on the floor in a split. After coming off the bench early in the first quarter and hitting back-to-back three-pointers, he scored only two points in the second half.
That was the least of Woodlawn's problems. The Poets switched to a 1-3-1 defense in the second half and held the Warriors' inside game of Guy Butler and Emmanuel Adekunle to a combined six points. Woodlawn was forced to play a perimeter game.
But in the final 16 minutes, Woodlawn converted four of 32 shots and scored only 14 points overall. The Warriors hit one field goal in the final quarter, a dunk by Adekunle with 1:07 left.
"It's not an easy gym to shoot in," said Woodlawn coach Rod Norris, "but I don't think that was the reason. We're not a jump shot team. Overall, it was just a lack of experience on our big kids. The ball wouldn't fall for them and they got frustrated."
Dunbar's experience showed in the second half last night as it opened the second half with a 19-6 run to take a 43-32 lead with 55 seconds left in the third.
After a dunk by Adekunle pulled the Warriors to 43-36 with 28 seconds left, Woodlawn didn't score again until a pair of free throws by Steve Jackson with 4:50 left in regulation.
"We came out real fired up and ready to play," said Woodlawn guard Keion Carpenter. "Our shots just didn't drop. We tried to go inside, but their defense closed it down. We kept our composure, but Dunbar showed why they are a good basketball team."
Even though the Warriors brought a 39-game regular-season winning streak into last night's contest, some are skeptical about Baltimore County basketball. Over the past 30 years, Baltimore County hasproduced four state champs. Last year, in its first season in the MPSSAA tournament, city schools had two state champs -- Southern (3A) and Dunbar (1A).
The Warriors earned some respect last night, jumping out to a 6-0 advantage in the opening 90 seconds, but ran into foul trouble later in the quarter as Butler and Adekunle picked up two fouls each.
With 1:18 left in the first quarter, Dudley entered the game and made his presence felt, hitting a three-pointer from the top of the key to pull Woodlawn to within 16-14 at the end of the quarter.
The Poets extended the lead to 22-19, but Woodlawn even at 22 with 5:15 remaining in the first half. After both teams traded baskets, a jumper by Carpenter with 3:22 left gave Woodlawn a 26-24 advantage.
"I think what turned it around for us was our defense in the second half," said Dunbar coach Paul Smith. "We were able to stop their guards."