COLLEGE PARK -- It was supposed to be a battle between the top teams in the Baltimore and Washington areas.
Instead, it was another easy playoff triumph for Southern-Baltimore.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 1 in Baltimore, throttled previously undefeated Crossland of Prince George's County, 71-55, in a state 4A semifinal game last night at Cole Field House.
Senior shooting guard Kevin Simpson led all scorers with 23 points for the Bulldogs. Dantavius Keating added 22. Omari McKinsey led Crossland with 11 points.
Southern (22-1), ranked No. 4 by USA Today, advanced to tomorrow night's state title game against Springbrook of Montgomery County, which defeated Glen Burnie, 66-64.
The Bulldogs, who also have beaten then-No. 1 Dunbar and Rice of New York, then ranked No. 1 in the country, have been all business since suffering their only loss, 72-71, to Southwestern on Feb. 1.
Since then, Southern has won 11 consecutive games, including victories over Lake Clifton and Southwestern by 18 and 13 points, respectively, last weekend in the North Regional at UMBC.
But for Southern last night against Crossland (23-1), it was simply personal.
Upset by comments by some Crossland players in an article in the Washington Post a couple days ago, Southern relentlessly pursued the Cavaliers in the second half.
"The coaches read the article to us, and that was the approach we took in practice," said Cason, who had six assists. "They never saw us play and we have never seen them, so we took what they were saying personal."
Southern was leading 46-39 when Simpson picked up a loose ball by his basket. He lofted the ball over a Crossland defender and was fouled. He completed the three-point play with the free throw for a 49-39 lead.
Southern quickly pressed the Cavaliers' inbound pass, leading to a steal by Mike Wise, who found Keating for a layup. The Bulldogs forced turnovers in the same manner, ending with easy layups by Marlon Wise.
"They were too strong for us," said Crossland coach Levi Franklin, a former standout at UMBC. "They saw the light and took advantage. They had the killer instinct."
The Bulldogs kept coming from all angles, wrapping up a 14-0 run with a layup by Simpson with 7:25 remaining for a 60-39 cushion.
"We were able to handle their press," said Keating, a 6-foot-5 junior. "They were talking trash about us and that really boosted us up."
After missing last week's regionals because of an illness, Keating showed no rust in his first game back, scoring 10 points in the second quarter for the Bulldogs.
With Southern trailing 16-14 after the opening quarter, Keating scored the first two baskets, giving the Bulldogs an 18-16 lead. A layup by Keating gave Southern a 22-20 lead.
Then Simpson, who had a subpar scoring performance in last week's regionals, regained his form. His three-pointer from the right corner gave the Bulldogs a 25-20 lead.
After he turned a block by Alphonso Hawes into a layup, Simpson broke free for an uncontested dunk, extending the Bulldogs' lead to 29-20 and giving Simpson 16 first-half points.
"We expected a tough game because we heard that Crossland was a great team," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "This is a senior team and they have the experience. We have played big games and know to win."
And the Bulldogs are now one win from a second consecutive state championship.