All season, Dunbar has heard whispers from around the city that it wasn't as good as its record. Those whispers grew louder with each close game the Poets encountered during the city league schedule.
But yesterday, the No. 2-ranked Poets left little doubt they're best in Baltimore, defeating No. 12 Southwestern, 75-60, in the city title game at Walbrook.
After a two-year run by the West in the championship game, East Baltimore has bragging rights again. Dunbar was the last team from the East to win the title, defeating Southwestern in 1996.
The Poets (19-3) lost to Douglass in last year's final at Poly. That was the only loss to a city opponent suffered by Dunbar over the last two seasons. Yesterday's triumph completed a 14-0 run against city teams this season.
"At the beginning of the season, people were talking about the transfers, but this is a good team," said Poets center Dontaz Dean. "We blocked the things people say out and never dwelled on it."
The 6-7 Dean dominated the inside for the Poets with a game-high 24 points and 16 rebounds. Lafonte Johnson added 21 and five assists. Tyrone Cooper led Southwestern (14-9) with 23 points.
In the teams' first meeting at Southwestern on Jan. 28, the Poets needed two free throws by Dean and a Sabers miss in the final seconds to escape with a 56-54 victory, one of several close calls by Dunbar.
Before a capacity crowd at Walbrook yesterday, the Poets rose to the occasion again, building a 17-point lead after three quarters.
"The kids kept telling me not to worry," said Dunbar coach Lynn Badham. "What I was afraid of was that we would go into a cold spell in the second half and down the stretch. We went cold early."
Dunbar turned the ball over on four of its first six possessions, resulting in a 9-2 deficit in the first quarter. After a timeout, the Poets scored 15 of the next 18 points, including a dunk by Ray Akinola, to take a 17-12 first-quarter lead.
Akinola (five points, four rebounds) and Pierre Tucker (eight, six rebounds), who didn't play in the first meeting because of suspensions, played crucial roles yesterday in the paint.
"Those offensive rebounds they got, I only saw one gold shirt under the basket, and everybody else was standing around," said Southwestern coach Terry Leverett, whose team was out-rebounded, 30-17. "We're like ants or bees, and we have to work together to be successful, and we didn't do that."
Dean carried Dunbar, which led 31-27 at half, at the start of the third period, scoring the Poets' first seven points as they built a 38-29 advantage.
The lead grew to 49-32 after two free throws by Dean (11-for-14 from the line). Then Johnson dashed any hopes of a Southwestern comeback with a three-pointer that banked in at the buzzer.
Pub Date: 2/25/99