Dunbar head coach Andre MGill yells plays from the sidelines as his team battles Cardinal Newman during the 2015 FHSAA Boys 4A Basketball Wednesday February 24, 2015 in Lakeland, FL. Photos by Cindy Skop, 2015
LAKELAND – As well as Dunbar’s game plan to go right at 6-foot-9 John Collins and front the West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman standout on defense worked in the first half, it didn’t hold up for all 32 minutes.
After carrying a one-point lead into halftime, Collins, who had 16 points, and the Crusaders were too much the rest of the way in a 57-49 win over the Tigers in a Class 4A semifinal Wednesday at the Lakeland Center.
Newman (26-1) will carry a 23-game winning streak into the final at 1:05 p.m. Thursday against top-ranked Tallahassee Godby, a 70-56 winner over Melbourne Holy Trinity, in a much-anticipated matchup. The Crusaders last made the final in 2000.
Meanwhile, Dunbar (19-8) closed out a season where it started 6-6 and appeared to be a long way from reaching Lakeland. It finished with a district title and three straight wins to get back to the final four after a seven-year absence.
“They kept clawing and digging,” Tigers coach Andre McGill said.
“Nobody expected us to be here, but the whole time we kept believing in ourselves and that’s what got us here,” Kendrick Paulk said.
In the first half, it appeared the Tigers weren’t quite done.
After a timid start with Collins, a Wake Forest signee, patrolling the paint, Dunbar dug itself out of a 22-10 hole by forcing the issue with drives to the basket. Christopher Sutherland cut the lead to six with a put back with 3:39 left in the second.
The Tigers added the other piece to the puzzle from the perimeter. The Tigers answered a 0-for-7 start from beyond the arc with 3s from Keanu Peniston and Paulk.
Peniston followed with a floater over Collins to cap a 16-3 run to end the half up 26-25.
“In the second half, we got away from the game plan,” McGill said. “We played good defense, but, taking nothing away from them, (Collins) is a moose. We had no answer for him. We tried to do the best we could with him. At the end, we had to gamble and they blew it open.”
Collins added nine reboundsand was too much of a defensive deterrent, blocking four shots against a Dunbar team which struggled to run its half-court offense.
Sutherland and Paulk spent the second half in foul trouble and Collins feasted in the paint with more touches.
“Coach (Tavarus Harris) told me in the second half, ‘We’re giving it to you,'” Collins said. “They were crowding me in the first half and that made it tough. I really made an effort to stay strong, post hard and do what I do best, which is get the ball and score, especially against smaller defenders.”
Paulk buried a 3 early in the third for a three-point lead, but the Crusaders answered with an 11-2 run to end the quarter.
Dunbar attempted to pack the paint with a zone. Newman put an end to that by pulling the ball out to half court for a minute until the Tigers came out to challenge. The result was a Collins two-handed put back to make it 37-31.
Marc Ortiz connected from beyond the arc to push the lead to double digits in the fourth. Collins put the exclamation point on the win, soaring for a two-handed dunk to put Newman up 51-40 with three minutes to play.
Sutherland finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for Dunbar while Peniston added 18.