The sights and sounds from the Poly Engineers narrow victory of the previously undefeated Dunbar Poets.
A significant challenge stood between the No. 5 Poly boys basketball team and a coveted spot in next week's Baltimore City Division I championship game.
The Engineers needed to accomplish something no team has been able to do this season, defeat No. 4 Dunbar on Friday night, and do it on the road.
Poly trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half, but found resolve and sophomore forward Justin Lewis had the game of his career to pave the way. He scored a career-high 36 points to lead Poly to a 65-61 win over the previously undefeated Poets.
Poly improved to 14-5 overall and finished 7-1 in Baltimore City's Division I. Dunbar fell to 18-1 and is 6-1 in league play. The teams will meet in the championship on Feb. 17 at Morgan State with game time set for 6 p.m.
With Dunbar sophomore forward Jamal West Jr. on the bench with foul trouble for a good chunk of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, the Engineers made a concerted effort to get the ball to Lewis, who responded with a 25-point second half.
"He put us on his back tonight and it was a pleasure to watch," Poly coach Sam Brand said. "We've got a lot of love for this guy so to see him do that on this stage at this time, it's why I love coaching."
The Engineers' comeback started in the final 1:17 of the first half with an 8-0 run that cut the Poets' lead to 29-27 at the half.
As the Engineers were walking to the locker room for the break, an altercation occurred with an adult Dunbar supporter, which Brand described.
"An angry fan tried to intimidate one of our players and took it to a physical place," Brand said.
The police on hand handcuffed the individual and took him out of the gym. After a Dunbar administrator announced that the gym would be cleared for the second half if everybody didn't promptly return to their seats, order was restored.
After Dunbar guard Malik McCormick (20 points) hit a 3-pointer and was fouled, converting the free throw to make it 38-31 with 4:56 to play in the third quarter, Lewis and the Engineers took control.
Poly sophomore forward Justin Lewis talks about his team's big win over Dunbar. (Glen Graham/Baltimore Sun video)
Lewis dominated inside with seven points, converting a three-point play to tie the game at 41 with Armani Walker hitting a jumper at the third-quarter buzzer to provide the Engineers with their first lead at 43-41.
Lewis went on to score 14 points in the fourth quarter — a dunk, a 3-pointer, a three-point play and key free throws down the stretch — to close out the win.
"I just didn't want to take my foot off the pedal," Lewis said. "There was so many times we could have gave up, but we kept pushing and kept pushing. A couple times down the stretch we turned it over and they were hitting good shots in our face, so we just had to keep it going and we did that."
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"They took advantage of it by trying to get Lewis the ball and hats off to him — he was able to make plays for his team when they needed it," Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones Sr. said. "We'll get another opportunity to reach our goal [of winning the Baltimore City title]. This doesn't stop anything we had planned for the year, so our guys just have to regroup. It's only one game, so we have to put it behind us. … You hate to lose, but hats off to Poly."
P —Mims 6, Ali 4, Jones 1, Horton 12, Walker 6, Lewis 36. Totals: 24 12-22 65