Down double digits at halftime, Paul Laurence Dunbar rallied to defeat Bowling Green 57-51 for a second straight thrilling win in the 99th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena.
Dunbar trailed by as many as 14 points Friday afternoon, going down 25-11 after a layup by Bowling Green’s Thomas Booker. Dunbar’s Justin Kelley hit a three to trim the Purples’ lead to seven points right before the break, but Deangelo Wilson responded with his third triple of the game to put Bowling Green up 10 at the half.
Bowling Green extended its lead to 11 before Taveion Hollingsworth jump-started a 15-0 run with a successful and-one finish at the rim. Jordan Lewis’ three-pointer with 2:44 left in the third quarter — his first make of the game — gave Dunbar its first lead. The Purples retook the lead briefly in the fourth quarter, 47-46, after a putback by Kyran Jones, but Dunbar responded with a 6-0 run and held the lead from the 4:02 mark onward.
“Well, that was a tough one,” Dunbar Coach Scott Chalk said. Ahead of the game, Chalk knew it’d be tough to keep Bowling Green off the boards. The Bulldogs managed to be outrebounded by just one board, and used an 18-12 advantage on the offensive glass to keep the game at its grind-it-out pace. “That was big,” Chalk said. “I didn’t really know if we could do that. ... It kept us alive even though we didn’t shoot the ball well early.”
Bowling Green wasn’t just on fire when play began, the Purples went full supernova, connecting on 83 percent of their attempts including a perfect 3-for-3 mark from beyond the arc.
Chalk had hoped the Purples wouldn’t come out ablaze and said it threw Dunbar out of sorts at the onset. The Bulldogs made four of their first 18 shots.
He wasn’t as worried about the numerical deficit as he was by the way Dunbar played.
“That was our problem,” Chalk said. “It took us longer to get to playing the way we wanted to play than we normally do.”
Part of Dunbar’s style is setting up its press, which it was able to do once it reeled off a few baskets in the third quarter. Kelley cut Bowling Green’s lead to one point with an and-one completion 19 seconds before Lewis hit the go-ahead three in the period.
Kelley scored 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting and was one of four Dunbar players to end with double-figure points. Hollingsworth, who scored 32 in a nail-biting game against Mercer County in the first round, had a game-high 16. Darius Williams had 13 points and Jordan Lewis ended with 10.
“I don’t shoot many shots, but the ones I do I think I shoot pretty well,” said Kelley, Dunbar’s fifth-leading scorer on the season. “When we sparked that run I knew the turn of events were happening right then. There’s no way they were going to stop us when we’re on that hot streak.”
Lewis knocked in five of six free throws in the final 1:09 to help seal the deal for Dunbar.
“He’s so fast he’s hard to catch to foul so we can really run some time off when we get the lead like that,” Chalk said. “And once we do he makes free throws. I was surprised he even missed the one he did. ... I’d say the last 30 seconds or a minute of a game he’s probably about 90 percent.”
Jones, who returned from a suspension, had 14 points and 10 rebounds to lead Bowling Green. Wilson scored 13, all in the first half, while Booker finished with 10.
Purples Coach D.G. Sherrill loved the caliber of team he brought to Rupp Arena and thought if the bracket had fallen another way, the bout with Dunbar could have been for a title. Said Sherrill:
“We had to play, what I’ll predict now, is the eventual state champion.”
Sweet Sixteen semifinals
Paul Laurence Dunbar (31-6) vs. Newport Central Catholic (30-4)
When: 6:30 p.m.