Dunbar boys basketball teams have won plenty of games covering decades in their storied gym on the corner of Orleans and Central in East Baltimore.
For an upstart opponent looking to make its own mark, leaving there with a win can be a daunting task. Mervo was the latest team to find that out.
The No. 6 Poets were assertive early to take a fast lead and were equally impressive at the end to pull away for a 75-58 win over the visiting Mustangs in Baltimore City play Tuesday.
Four starters reached double figures for Dunbar, which improved its record to 5-0.
Forward Jamal West Jr had a strong game inside, scoring 12 of his game-high 23 points in the third quarter to help dismiss a Mervo rally. The Poets hit 10 3 pointers with Malik McCormick (22 points) good on five of them. Seniors Zephaniah Esguerra (14 points) and Dashawn Phillip (13 points) provided timely points and leadership, with the Poets’ quickness on defense offsetting Mervo’s size advantage.
“We’re 5-0 and it all comes down to teamwork,” McCormick said. “We preach about defense a lot and had a lot of stops in other games and this game, too, so we knew we would be able to come out strong.”
Phillip set the tone shortly after the opening tip, stealing the ball at midcourt and going straight to the basket for an opening-possession dunk.
McCormick converted a four-point play after being fouled on a 3 point shot and it was the first of three first-quarter 3 pointers to help the Poets build a 20-7 lead.
The Mustangs (1-1) settled in and stayed on even terms with Dunbar for the rest of the half, then made their run in the third quarter. With strong inside play from Will Thomas (team-high 20 points) and consecutive 3-pointers from Damon Moore in the final minute, Mervo had cut the lead to 55-49 to start the fourth quarter.
West opened the final period with an emphatic dunk, using a pump fake to get his defender into the air before going up himself to make it 57-49, and the Poets added four points from McCormick and a 3-pointer from Phillip to go on to the comfortable win.
With a roster mostly composed of juniors and sophomores, and three transfers — including Thomas from Mount Carmel — the Mustangs are learning on the move. They showed character trimming Dunbar’s 16-point second-quarter lead to six before giving way to the more experienced home team.
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“We’re just trying to get the kinks out and build our program so we can compete with teams like Dunbar,” Mervo coach Deron Harding said. “We tried to fight and fight, but hats off to Dunbar — they played a really great game and actually taught us something.
“It’s always a pleasure to play here, I tried to get my kids pumped up and may have got them a little too pumped up to start the game and we fell back early.”
M—Thomas 20, T. Newman 7, D. Newman 2, Moore 8, Carter 3, Harrell 2, Burton 5, Allison 7, Taylor 4. Totals: 20 13-19 58.
D—Phillip 13, West 23, McCormick 22, Esguerra 14, Ayers 2, Scott 1. Totals: 20 25-37 75.