PHOTOS by Jimmy Fields Sr.
McDonogh School boys’ basketball team relished the chance to play at Dunbar Monday. The Poets’ gymnasium, affectionally nicknamed Eastside Garden, is a Baltimore basketball time capsule, with Dunbar’s national, state and city championship over the decades hanging on the walls.
So when the Eagles’ first lead half vanished in the third quarter, they had to deal with a surging undefeated Poets squad as well as the echoes of Dunbar basketball seeping through the walls. The sixth-ranked Eagles regained their composure, emerging with a 57-50 victory over the No. 2 Poets.
Senior guard Jaedon Willis scored a game-high 17 points for the Eagles (16-5 overall) and Noah Locke added 16. Juniors Dashawn Phillip and Zephaniah Esguerra each finished with 12 points for Dunbar (13-1).
The Eagles overcame the loss of their backcourt in the third quarter, going on a 14-4 run from late in the third into the middle of the fourth to regain control. Locke sat the most of the third quarter after picking his fourth foul while senior point guard Damian Chong-qui didn’t play the second half due to an ankle injury.
“When Damian went down, we regrouped and talked about being all in,” said McDonogh coach T.J. Jordan. “The guys came together and it wasn’t just one man.”
“Other guys had to step up and playing together was the difference,” said Locke.
McDonogh got quality bench minutes from Willis, Darius Pickett and Alexi Thomas, who Jordan commended for his defensive play after sitting the previous three matches. Willis, an occassional starter, sparked the Eagles’ rebirth with a 3-pointer in the final minute of third quarter.
Willis dropped a jumper, just inside the 3-point arch, giving the Eagles the lead back, 42-40, early in the fourth. The left-handed sharpshooter had seven in a momentum-changing 9-0 run.
“We were composed and got the ball to the guys who can score,” said Willis. “We weathered the storm and once Noah got back in, we knew we had a chance.”
Locke finished a pass from Marquis Thornes (11 points), who grinded out an offensive rebound, for a 3-point play giving McDonogh a 50-44 lead. Willis scored again after a Dunbar turnover, extending the lead to 52-44 advantage with 2:13 left in regulation.
Locke and Willis combined for four 3-pointers, staking McDonogh to a 16-8 first quarter lead. The Eagles stretched it to 24-14 midway through the second, after William Little’s 3-point play off a loose ball putback.
Moments later, Chong-qui came down awkardly after a drive to the basket. The Eagles’ floor leader watched the rest of the game from behind bench with a bag of ice on his ankle.
With 6:36 remaining in the third, Locke went to bench with his fourth foul after stopping sophomore Tymu Chenery’s dunk attempt that ignited the Dunbar faithful. The Orleans Street school gained the lead, 31-30, after Chenery hit a short jumper.
Esguerra’s basket put the Poets up 40-33 with 1:11 left in the third quarter. Plagued by turnovers for most of the period, Willis’ 3-pointer helped McDonogh to begin to find its bearing.
“Of course, the kids were a little down when they see their leader go down then our other leader gets in foul trouble, but we regrouped,” said Jordan. “You got to give a lot of credit to our players and coaching staff. We made some adjustments.
It was definitely going to be a different kind of a game with no shot clock. We knew if they got a big lead, they were going to slow the ball down. We prepared for that, and then we continue to play our style.”
Down 52-44, Dunbar got a 3-point play from Phillip with less than two minutes left in regulation. But the Poets didn’t convert another field goal and turned the ball over several times.
Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones said his team didn’t stick the formula that’s made them successful this season.
“We got a little selfish and tried to do too much, and we didn’t have to do that,” said Jones. “When you don’t play within yourself and do what you’re supposed to do, this what happens. Hopefully we can learn from this.”
Jordan said he wanted a late season road test to prepare the Eagles for the stretch run in the MIAA A Conference. It’s believed to be the first time McDonogh has played at the east Baltimore school.
“It’s such a historic place,” said Willis. “For us to come in here and get a win is a big moment for the program.”
“The guys who came from here [Dunbar] like Muggsy Bogues, it’s definitely a blessing to play in here and get this experience,” said Locke, “but it was good to get a win also.”
No. 6 McDonogh School 57, No. 2 Dunbar 50
McDonogh – Locke 16, Willis 17, Thornes 11, Pickett 1, Brown 5, Little 7. Totals 18 15-20 57.
Dunbar – Phillip 12, McCormick 11, Esguerra 12, Chenery 3, McNair 2, Tolbert 2, Giles 4, Moore 4. Totals 12 23-28 50.
McDonogh 16 10 12 19 – 57
Dunbar 8 11 21 10 – 40