Call ’em the down-but-never-out Bulldogs.
Paul Laurence Dunbar pulled out another close one, defeating Newport Central Catholic 55-47 in the first semifinal of the 99th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet 16 in Rupp Arena on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs came from behind against Mercer County and Bowling Green in the previous two rounds. Saturday’s win put them in the state finals for the first time since 1994. They’ll eye their first state championship when they take on the winner between Doss and South Laurel at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Down by a few baskets for most of the first half and trailing at halftime, Dunbar limited the Thoroughbreds to 18 points in the final 16 minutes and led by as much as 11 as it contained Ben Weyer, NewCath’s star big man.
Weyer, a Bellarmine signee, ended with only 16 points on 4-for-13 shooting as he battled foul trouble. Bulldogs hounded him all night in the paint and on the perimeter; the 6-foot-6 senior connected on a three-pointer to open the game but went just 1-for-5 from beyond the arc the rest of the way.
Dunbar’s Darius Williams came away with 20 points and 11 rebounds, both game highs, to go along with three steals. The senior found an offensive rhythm, going 7-for-16 from the floor after a combined 6-for-24 clip in his first two games at Rupp Arena.
I was given an assignment to stop Ben Weyer so I just came out with a mission to stop him.
Paul Dunbar’s Dontell Brown
“This is the kind of game we were expecting of Darius,” Bulldogs Coach Scott Chalk said. “This is the kind of usual game he’s had all year.”
Chalk thought speeding up the Thoroughbreds, whom he lauded for their discipline, would play to Dunbar’s favor. It helped in at least one category: NewCath committed 16 turnovers, more than its total over the first two rounds (15).
“Even if it wasn’t making the score high, constantly making them have to make decisions — running people, trapping people, moving around a lot — (we thought) it was gonna make them have a little bit of trouble,” Chalk said.
He gave ample credit to Dontell Brown, who finished with six points and three steals but was Weyer’s primary defender the bulk of the game.
“I was given an assignment to stop Ben Weyer so I just came out with a mission to stop him,” Brown said. “ … I figured if I could step up we would pretty much have the game in the bag.”
Brown broke away and got by Weyer for a two-handed slam in the second quarter that jolted the Dunbar faithful. “It felt good cause I ain’t gotten to dunk in a while,” Brown said with a laugh.
Taveion Hollingsworth, a junior, added 18 points and five rebounds for Dunbar. Jordan Lewis had five points, three assists and two steals.
“We’re trying to come out this year and prove something,” said Lewis, calling back to the past two years in which Dunbar finished under .500 on the season. Lewis has nine assists through three games to just one turnover, which he committed on Saturday.
“We were thinking about kicking him off the team after that,” Chalk joked. “There’s no substitute for a point guard who you know’s not going to turn the ball over. … The number one analytic stat for high school basketball — not college, not pro, but high school — is you have the least turnovers, you’re gonna win more games than not.
“That’s what we’ve had this year. And it’s because of him mostly.”
Sweet Sixteen finals
Paul Laurence Dunbar vs. Doss
2 p.m. Sunday in Rupp Arena