Paul Laurence Dunbar came away with a 63-62 win at Lexington Catholic, erasing a first-half deficit in an atmosphere that resembled a regional tournament on Friday night.
Dunbar improved to 5-0 on the young season. Lexington Catholic fell to 2-2 after dropping its second straight.
Darius Williams paced the Bulldogs with 31 points, including an 18-point second half. An 8-0 spurt by Williams in the opening minutes of the third quarter helped turn a 31-26 LexCath halftime lead into a 35-31 advantage for Dunbar. It was a season high for Williams, who had scored only 32 points total in their three prior games. Dunbar Coach Scott Chalk was happy to see Williams “get energetic and get off again” after dealing with cramps to start the season.
“We (weren’t) going to pay attention to the score,” Williams said of Lexington Catholic’s halftime edge. “ ... They’re going to make runs, we’re going to make runs. That’s basketball.”
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Dunbar climbed all the way up to a 49-42 edge entering the fourth period. Catholic kept chipping away, eventually tying things at 55 apiece on a basket by sophomore Zan Payne. Dunbar got back up to a 61-57 edge before Donnie Morris scored six straight — capped by a well-contested three-pointer that swished — to give Catholic a 62-61 lead with just more than a minute left.
That big basket was immediately followed by a layup in traffic from Taveion Hollingsworth, Dunbar’s star junior who has recently blown up on the recruiting trail. The Bulldogs took that lead at the 1:03 mark and held on, surviving two missed free throws by Catholic and a steal created by Luke Johnson which led to a decent look from behind the arc by Morris as time expired.
Hollingsworth said “it felt good” to pick up Dunbar’s second district win on the road this week. The Bulldogs defeated Lafayette 70-54 on Tuesday. His outing Friday night — 9-for-19 for 18 points — wasn’t as eye-popping as his 75 percent shooting, 40-point night on Tuesday, but he showed composure down the stretch as he came away with Dunbar’s final six points.
It was the tightest finish of the year for Dunbar, which had beaten its prior four opponents by an average of 20 points.
“That was a gut check,” Chalk said. “ ... Playing Catholic at Catholic is always going to be tough. I’ve told everybody all year that (Catholic) is going to be a lot better than people think they are.”
Johnson led Lexington Catholic with 25 points. Morris, who scored 20, and JJ Ogbogu, who had eight points, made their debut for the Knights after finishing their stints as receivers for the football team. Peter Whitman also played his first minutes of the year after battling an illness. All three returnees started.
Coach Brandon Salsman said having those guys back will help solidify a team that lost five senior starters. Their inexperience showed against Dunbar, he said, but he was proud of the fight his team showed until the clock struck zero.
“I told ’em in the locker room, ‘Hey, it should hurt because you played as hard as you possibly can and we didn’t win,’” Salsman said. Something else he told the Knights, who kept things tight despite only having four players score? “We’re nowhere near as good as we’re gonna be.”
They were just old enough to know last year that they probably should have done better.
Scott Chalk, Paul Laurence Dunbar basketball coach
The Bulldogs’ undefeated start to 2015-16 is much different than its beginning a season ago. Dunbar started its previous campaign 0-8 and didn’t get above .500 until the end of January.
“A lot of that’s just maturity,” Chalk said. “They were just old enough to know last year that they probably should have done better. Sometimes you’re not even old enough to know that, you just think ‘whatever.’ They were old enough to know they should have done better and they got beat by a bunch of seniors.
“So now it’s their turn with seniors and juniors and they feel that way. What happens is what happens but at least I feel good about practicing every day and coaching because they’re a little bit more focused and a little bit more mature.”
Bennett Lester Classic
The game served as the inaugural Bennett Lester Classic, which benefited The Curious Edge Foundation to help fight pediatric cancer. It was named after Bennett Lester, who died recently of the disease. She was the daughter of Billy Lester, who attended Lexington Catholic, and his wife Katie Anne, who attended Paul Laurence Dunbar. A check for $10,000 was donated during the pregame ceremony.
PAUL DUNBAR 63, LEXINGTON CATHOLIC 62
Paul Dunbar (5-0) — Lewis 3, Brown 5, Hollingsworth 18, Clark 4, Homer 2, Williams 31.
Lexington Catholic (2-2) — Morris 20, Ogbodu 8, Johnson 25, Payne 9.