The assertive stretch that the No. 1 Poly boys basketball team enjoyed at the start of the second quarter against visiting Lake Clifton on Monday — nine straight points — featured baskets from four players.
All-Metro senior forwards Justin Lewis and Brandon Murray both had emphatic dunks, sophomore guard Bryce Lindsay hit from long range and promising freshman Kwame Evans Jr. finished with a driving layup.
What impressed Poly coach Sam Brand most about the deciding stretch that sent the Engineers on their way to a 79-52 win over the No. 3 Lakers was the team’s quality depth.
Lewis and Murray each finished with 17 points, Lindsay had 15 and senior point guard Rahim Ali added 13 as three-time defending Class 3A champion Poly (3-0) won the Baltimore City battle between defending state champions. Lake Clifton, which captured the 1A crown last season, fell to 2-1 despite a game-high 21 points from All-Metro senior guard Michael Gray.
Trailing 9-8 after one quarter, the Engineers came out with energy and efficiency at both ends to build a cushion that was never threatened. One thing in particular stood out to Brand in the Engineers’ 9-0 run in the first two minutes of the second quarter.
“I think what was very significant about that is, in previous years, it’s been very hard for this team to make runs without Rahim in the game. And for us to be able to do that without him is just difference for us,” said Brand, who had his four-year starting point guard resting to start the second quarter.
“Even though Rahim, Justin and Brandon are considered our big three, it’s a major luxury to know that as good as those guys are, we have guys behind them on the bench that can spell them when they need a break and fill in the gaps. To me, that run was all about our depth.”
The Baltimore City league is deep this season — three other teams are behind Poly and Lake in The Baltimore Sun’s Top 15 poll — but the Engineers appear to be a clear cut above. Lewis (23 rebounds, five blocks and five assists) sets the tone with dominant inside play at both ends, Ali (seven assists) is the calming presence, and Murray, Lyndsey, Evans and senior forward Ian Wallace (five points) can all produce during important minutes.
It’s a lot for opposing teams to handle. After a sluggish first quarter, the Engineers woke up. After the opening run in the second quarter, they got three straight baskets from Murray later in the quarter and a short left-handed hook from Lewis for a 26-15 lead with 39 second left in the half.
Said Murray: “We thought we weren’t picking it up, so we decided to pick up our effort and energy, and that was the difference.”
The Engineers’ pressure defense and depth was too much for the Lakers to overcome in the second half.
Joining Gray in double figures for Lake Clifton were forward Jalen Morris (11 points) and guard Zaccheus Blackwell (10).
“We didn’t make shots that we needed to make,” Lake Clifton coach Herman “Tree” Harried said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Poly because they played well, they made their shots and used their size very well. They just played better than we did.
“One of the things that came out of this thing is it’s a chance to expose some of the things we need to work on, and everything is fixable. Outside of the loss, I think a lot of good is going to come out of this for us to continue to get better."
Last season, Poly became the first public school in Maryland to win three straight Class 3A state titles, while Lake Clifton’s state title in 1A made the Lakers the first to win crowns in all four classifications.
LC – Gray 21, Blackwell 10, Morris 11, Spruill 4, Hodges 3, Barney 3. Totals: 18 13-18 52
P – Ali 13, Lewis 17, Murray 17, Wallace 5, Lindsay 15, Evans 5, Walden 2, English 5. Totals: 27 15-19 79
Half: P, 26-17