With a minute left and victory in hand, the No. 2 Dunbar boys basketball team played an impressive game of keep-away from No. 1 Patterson.
Swiftly covering all four corners in the half-court, every Poet touched the ball before Rodrick Harrison found Aaron Parham alone under the basket for an easy two points with 54 seconds left.
It was a fitting ending for Dunbar, which used balanced scoring and a stingy zone defense to keep the visiting Clippers frustrated for most of Friday night's game on their way to a 64-55 victory. The game was stopped with 31.8 seconds left after a number of fans in Dunbar's packed gym began walking onto the court to find the exit.
By then, the outcome had already been decided.
Senior point guard Donte Pretlow led the way for Dunbar (11-0) with 14 points and seven assists, and Parham, a senior forward, added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Baltimore's most storied boys basketball program, which has won 20 Maryland Scholastic Association championships (the first in the 1956-57 season), 13 state titles afterward and a few national championships in the 1980's and 90's, is now back on top after handing Patterson (8-3) its first loss to a Baltimore City opponent since the 2009-10 season.
"It's a great win," said Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones, who guessed that the last time the Poets were No. 1 in The Sun poll was 1997. "It's been a long wait. We used to be in this position, but we haven't been here in a long, long time. We had a lot of alumni support today that came, people that used to be in this position and that really helped us as well -- the crowd, being at home. We're there now and hopefully we can stay there."
All five starters reached double figures for the two-time defending Class 1A state champion Poets, who also got 13 points from Harrison, 12 from Evan Singletary and 11 from Gavin Pettiford. Each took turns stepping up at the offensive end, and they all came together on the defensive side to hold All-Metro Player of the Year Aquille Carr to 21 points and the rest of the Clippers to 34 more.
The Poets hit seven 3-pointers in the game and were at their best in the important minutes when the score was close.
After leading 32-28 at the half, Dunbar scored the first eight points in the third quarter to build a 40-28 lead. Pettiford, who hit consecutive 3-pointers midway through the first quarter, hit his third one on the opening possession to get the run started.
Behind Carr and Myrek Lee-Fowlkes, the Clippers cut Dunbar's lead to 52-49 with 4:29 to play, but the Poets answered with the next five points. Harrison finished off a fast break for a 57-49 lead with 2:56 to play, and then Pretlow added two baskets from there.
"The difference in this game was mental toughness," Pretlow said. "Before the game, coach told us to try to keep our heads and play through everything that was going on no matter what. A couple hours ago, we were No. 2 but we won a game and now we're No. 1. It feels good."
Jones was quick to credit Pretlow for controlling the flow of the game and said another key was the Poets' ability to take care of the boards. But he was most pleased with the sacrifices his players made on defense, which has become a constant for the team this season.
"We just pride ourselves on defense," he said. "We're not a team with a lot of superstars or one superstar -- we just basically play as a team. Everybody pitches in [and] believes in one another."
The game had some controversy. In the third quarter, a technical foul apparently issued to a Dunbar player was reversed and, later in the quarter, a point for Patterson was taken off the scoreboard after the referees conferred with the scorers' table.
But Patterson coach Harry Martin was quick to credit Dunbar's fine play for the final result.
"They deserved the win, so there's no excuse -- we just have to get better," he said. "They wanted it more, and they came out and executed a lot better than we did. So there's no excuse. There was some questionable stuff going on, but we have to play better. It seems like we couldn't attack their zone tonight -- that was the biggest issue. We want to get the game up and down, and we allowed them to set up in half-court sets."
No. 2 Dunbar 64, No. 1 Patterson 55
P – Carr 21, Manns 17, Lee-Fowles 16, Brown 2. Totals: 23 8-15 55.
D – Pretlow 14, Harrison 13, Singletary 12, Parham 12, Gross 2. Totals: 23 11-21 64.
Half: D, 32-28