“With a tear in my eye … this is the greatest moment in my life.”
Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 61-52 win over Doss in the championship game of the 99th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen on Sunday afternoon at Rupp Arena evoked that classic Ric Flair line uttered after the 1992 Royal Rumble. There was, after all, a WWE championship belt draped over the left shoulder of Bulldogs center Dontell Brown moments after the final horn sounded.
Brown’s postgame comments were ripe for a promo, too: “We just the champs, bruh.”
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Dunbar won its school-record 33rd game and the program’s first state championship. The Bulldogs led wire to wire in front of 10,091 fans after having to come from behind in their previous three state tournament games.
The original Dunbar High School, which closed in 1967 and had a Bearcats mascot, lost in state championship games in 1961 and 1963. PLD, which opened in 1990, reached the state finals but lost in 1993 and 1994.
Taveion Hollingsworth was named MVP of the tournament. The junior scored a tournament-high 86 points — an average of 21.5 per game — and played 124 of a possible 128 minutes, also tops for the tournament. He had 20 points and eight rebounds in the finals.
“I played pretty hard to get it so I feel like I deserved it,” Hollingsworth said of earning top-player honors. “It’s a good feeling.”
Dunbar bolted out to an 8-0 lead, capped by a backdoor alley-oop from Hollingsworth to Jordan Lewis, the team’s point guard. The Bulldogs led by 19 points early in the second quarter and took a 15-point advantage into the break. They maintained a 15- to 18-point lead for most of the third quarter.
Kenyi Bryant, Doss’ leading scorer at 15.5 per game, picked up his fourth foul with 4:33 to play in the third quarter and came out on a mission in the fourth. Bryant scored nine of the Dragons’ first 10 points in the period to draw them to within 13 points with 5:34 to play. He finished with 15 in the quarter and a game-high 23 on 8-for-16 shooting.
Foul trouble plagued Doss much of the game. By the end, all of its starters except for Bryant were on the bench as the Dragons were forced to make contact to keep getting possessions down the stretch.
Dunbar was just decent enough at the stripe to keep a comfortable distance between it and Doss, which never got closer than nine points in the final minutes. The Bulldogs went 12-for-23 from the line in the fourth quarter and were 25-for-38 overall. They outrebounded Doss 31-21 and had 15 second-chance points to only three for the Dragons.
Darius Williams had 15 points and four rebounds. He scored 11 in the second half after sitting out the entire second quarter with two fouls.
So what was it like to be called “champ?”
“It sounds good, feels good,” Williams said with a smile. “We’ll always be remembered.”
He was among several Dunbar players who anticipated a closer game than the one that played out. Coach Scott Chalk joked in his pregame speech that his players should get out to a better start instead of struggling as it had in its first three tournament games. Doss faced a Bulldogs squad that had clobbered its share of foes in the regular season and was happy to return to form.
“We came out how we used to come out and it was over,” Williams said. “It felt good. Today was the right time.”
Jordan Lewis had nine points, three rebounds and a steal. Brown nearly came away with a double-double, ending with 11 points and eight boards.
“It’s overwhelming,” Lewis said. “I broke into a couple tears, man. … We had the pride of Lexington on our back.”
Dunbar became the first Lexington public school to win the state championship since Lafayette defeated Male in the 2001 finals. It became the fifth different school from the 11th Region to win the boys’ state title this century, joining Lafayette (2001), Lexington Catholic (2002), Scott County (2007) and Madison Central (2013). No other region has produced more than two state champions in that same span.
The Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 much of the season and entered as favorites. They lived up to their own expectations. On Nov. 4, 2015, Hollingsworth tweeted out, “Y’all not ready for this season man we shocking the whole state” and pinned it to his profile page , complete with a smiling devil emoji and an “OK” sign. Words that could have come back to haunt turned out to be premonition.
“I told everybody we were gonna do it,” Hollingsworth said, “and we did it.”
Spoken with the gusto of a WWE superstar.
MVP—Taveion Hollingsworth, Paul Laurence Dunbar
Team—Kenyi Bryant, Doss; Ethan Clark, Murray; Quentin Goodin, Taylor County; Jared Grub, South Laurel; Brennan Hall, Newport Central Catholic; Jaylon Hall, Doss; Kelshawn Knight-Goff, Doss; Jordan Lewis, Paul Laurence Dunbar; Caleb Taylor, South Laurel; Terry Taylor, Bowling Green; Ben Weyer, Newport Central Catholic; Darius Williams; Paul Laurence Dunbar; Grant Williams, South Oldham
Larry Conley Ultimate Teammate Award—Ben Weyer, Newport Central Catholic
Riherds.com Above and Beyond Award—Duane Curtis, Murray
Ted Sanford Award—Vincent “Earl” Clark, Paul Laurence Dunbar