After Lexington Catholic beat Paul Laurence Dunbar 67-54 in boys' basketball Thursday night, Knights Coach Brandon Salsman probably wanted to hang a "Welcome back, Craig" banner in the locker room.
Craig Floyd has been Lexington Catholic's most reliable scorer behind Jack Whitman this season, so when the 6-foot-4 senior wingman was sidelined with a finger injury on his shooting hand the first week of the new year, it was a big hurt for the Knights.
Floyd missed three games, including losses to Lafayette and Lexington Christian, and when he returned to the court against Tates Creek last week, he was mostly ineffective and the Knights lost again.
"When Craig went down, we knew it'd be a struggle without that 1-2 combo," Salsman said.
Never miss a local story.
But Floyd returned to form against Dunbar. He had nine of Lexington Catholic's first 13 points to get the hosts off to a good start, and he stayed on a roll. He hit 11 of 16 shots, including three three-pointers, and finished with 25 points (two shy of his career high). He also had five rebounds and a couple of assists, and he was a defensive presence.
Whitman did his usual double-double thing. The 6-9 junior had 22 points and 13 rebounds, the perfect complement to Floyd.
"It's a huge relief to be back scoring, shooting, rebounding, passing, dribbling — all the good stuff," Floyd said.
The No. 25 Knights beat Dunbar for the ninth time in a row since 2006. The teams didn't play for eight years before that. The last time the Bulldogs beat Lexington Catholic was in the 1997 region finals.
Dunbar figured to have a shot at snapping that losing streak Thursday night. It owned city victories over Bryan Station, Lafayette, Lexington Christian and Tates Creek, and it had won 10 of its previous 12 games.
The Bulldogs, led by their quick backcourt of juniors William Gary and Mike Smith, stayed close until Lexington Catholic went on an 11-0 run late in the first half to open a 31-16 lead. The visitors narrowed the gap to 31-20 by halftime.
But it was all Knights after that. They hit 15 of 22 shots (68 percent) in the second half and led by as many as 21 points (56-35). Patrick Keller, a 6-6 senior, added seven points and seven rebounds for the winners.
Gary led Dunbar with 22 points and Smith had 21. The rest of the Bulldogs' lineup combined for only 11 points.
The much-taller Knights won the battle of the boards, outrebounding Dunbar 35-25. Their interior defense helped limit the Bulldogs to 40 percent shooting.
"They're long across that front line," Coach Justin Yeary said. "We put a big kid (6-6 Taylor King) in the middle, and four guards around him."
The Knights' superior size helped them to a 14-3 advantage in second-chance points.
"If we could've eliminated most of those, it's probably a four-quarter battle," Yeary said. "But the effort was there. Did we play well? No. But I thought we played hard, and that's all you can really control. We can live with that."
One thing Yeary says is lacking, however, is a total commitment in practice.
"Until we get that, we may not play well," he said.
PAUL DUNBAR (16-5) — Gary 8-20 6-10 22, Smith 9-19 1-4 21, King 1-3 0-0 2, Lewis 1-5 0-0 2, Herrin 2-5 1-1 5, Haga 1-2 0-0 2, Hurst 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-55 8-15 54.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (14-5) — Keller 3-5 1-2 7, Floyd 11-16 0-0 25, Whitman 9-15 4-5 22, Avare 1-4 0-0 3, Woomer 3-7 0-0 7, Muncy 0-1 0-0 0, Banahan 1-3 1-1 3. Totals 28-51 6-8 67.
Paul Dunbar 11 9 14 20—54
Lexington Catholic 16 15 15 21—67