Dunbar played a game of chess on Tuesday and won. If given the opportunity, the Tigers would rather play a different, quicker game on Friday.
You can’t blame them for the thought.
In one of the most unusual spectacles of the year, the Dunbar boys basketball team outlasted Bishop Verot in the Region 4A-3 semifinal following what best can be described as a stall-and-wait tactic.
While it was a clever concept against the push-and-kick Tigers, it didn’t quite have the legs the Vikings envisioned and Dunbar eventually ran off with a 30-21 win and its first region championship berth since 2008, when the team last reached the state final four.
“Like Coach said, ‘basketball can be a game of thinkers,’” junior point guard Marcellous Mitchell said. “It was going to be a chess game. We had to play with patience. So what we had to do is think about it and play controlled. We did what they thought we couldn’t do.”
The Tigers (18-8) now face an opponent more adept at dictating the pace of game, though at a slightly faster clip. But they’ll at least get the chance to do it at home as they meet Tampa Berkeley Prep (23-6) on Friday at Dunbar.
The Buccaneers are led by 6-foot-5 Jacob Mathis, who scores 17 points and hauls in five rebounds per game. Kaleeyl Findlay and Chris McWilliams complement Mathis with a combined 20 points between them.
“In my four years here, we’ve been trying to exceed the limits to put Dunbar basketball back on the map,” senior Chris Sutherland said. “This Friday will be our last home game as seniors ever, so it’ll be emotional but we’ll just try to go out there and get the win.”
It will come as the boys remain the only Dunbar team still playing. On Wednesday, the Dunbar girls fell in the Class 4A state final to Orlando Lake Highland Prep, their second straight runner-up finish following a highly successful four years.
The boys’ team hasn’t been as accomplished, though no one can argue the Tigers haven’t improved. Head coach Andre McGill took a program of just three returners and a handful of transfers this season to the Elite 8.
“This group wasn’t expected to go this far,” McGill said. “This team came out of nowhere.”
For Sutherland, though, he’ll take it. He hasn’t gotten past the regional semifinals in his four years with Tigers. On Tuesday against the Vikings, he remained composed and led Dunbar with a game-high 12 points.
He understands the position the Tigers are in, that because they weren’t expected to be here that they likely won’t be favored against the visiting Buccaneers.
But if this season has helped forge some kind of identity for the boys’ program, he can walk away happy with it.
“Since I’ve been here my freshman year, we’ve been the back story,” he said. “It will be good if we can do it like the girls and put Dunbar boys basketball on the map, too.”