The Dunbar boys basketball team made its first five 3-pointers against Lake Clifton and when senior guard Da’Shawn Phillip was fouled on its sixth try — coming with one second left in the first quarter — he made all three free throws.
On their home court and playing one of their biggest rivals in Baltimore City, the No. 4 Poets wanted to assert themselves from the start and Phillip’s free throws provided a double-digit lead.
It was an advantage they would maintain with strong defense, dominant inside play from Jamal West Jr. (19 points, 12 rebounds) and more from Phillip, who ended with a game-high 23 points to go with 13 boards.
Dunbar remained undefeated this season in impressive fashion, improving to 18-0 with a 69-55 win over the No. 10 Lakers. The win put the Poets at 6-0 in Baltimore City’s Division I, ensuring a berth in the title game, while Lake Clifton (14-4) fell to 5-2 in league play.
The standout junior, who transferred to Huntington Prep (W.Va.) this year after leading the Clippers to Class 2A and Baltimore City titles last season, has returned to the East Baltimore school. He will be eligible to play in his senior year.
The Poets’ first four baskets were 3-pointers, and when senior Zephaniah Esguerra hit the last two on consecutive possessions, they had built a 12-5 lead that would extend to 22-11 after Phillip made the quarter-closing free throws.
West, Phillip and the Poets defense took over the game in the second quarter. The two combined to score 13 points as the Poets built a 39-15 advantage before halftime.
The 24-point advantage would be the Poets’ biggest of the game, but the Lakers, who got 19 points from guard Michael Gray, would try to climb back.
The visitors would end the third quarter on a 7-0 run — Chauncey Smith hitting a 3-pointer with three seconds left — and then get a driving layup from Gray to make it 49-38 at the start of the fourth quarter.
“We knew they were going to be a tough team to beat, challenge us physically, so we wanted to make sure we got everybody involved and stay in tune for 32 minutes,” Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones Sr. said. “We did it for the most part. We had some lapses where the game sort of got out of control … but our guys were able to hang in there and makes basketball plays when we needed to.”
The Poets will next host No. 5 Poly (13-5, 6-1) on Friday at 5:15 p.m. Jones said the Poets have never had their sights on a perfect season, despite it becoming more and more possible.
“That’s really not important. That never was our goal coming into the season. We wanted to basically take game by game and of course win the City championship and get to states, win the region and try to win the state championship from there. That’s all we’ve talked about.”
While the Poets are in the championship game, Lake Clifton can still claim the second spot with a home win against City on Friday and a Poly loss at Dunbar. The title game is set for Feb. 17 at Morgan State.
LC—Carter 4, Lucas 4, Harried 12, Gray 19, Smith 6, Barney 10. Totals: 18 16-23 55.