Dunbar’s Kedrick Paulk and David Johnson celebrate their win over Bishop Verot in the Region 4A-3 semifinal on Tuesday, February 17, 2015, at Dunbar High School.
As his team faced quite possibly its oddest test of the season, Dunbar boys basketball coach Andre McGill spent halftime reassuring his players that they were in a good spot, despite being in unfamiliar territory.
Bishop Verot, which lost to Dunbar on Feb. 6 by 43 points, slowed the pace of Tuesday night’s Region 4A-3 semifinal down so slow that the teams combined for just 22 first-half points and went into the halftime break tied at 11.
“We just had to not panic,” McGill said. “Every possession was going to count. Just be patient on offense and defense.”
True to course, the Tigers capitalized on what few opportunities they did have and beat Bishop Verot 30-21 to claim their first Region 4A-3 final berth since 2008.
Dunbar will host Tampa Berkeley Prep, which beat Tampa Catholic 71-61 in the other semifinal Tuesday, on Friday in the region final.
The 51 points scored by the teams marks the lowest total of any region playoff game in any classification in Florida this season.
“We got beat by 43 last time … we weren’t trying that (game plan) again,” Verot coach Matt Herting said. “We kind of had them where we wanted to but we had too many turnovers and mental mistakes.”
The Vikings set the tone initially by swinging the ball around the perimeter for over four minutes on its first possession as Dunbar sat back in its 2-3 zone.
The Tigers (19-7) quickly changed defenses on the next possession, but it still took over six minutes before the game’s first points were scored and the Vikings led 5-4 after the first quarter.
After a second quarter that was equally as slow, Dunbar started the second half on a 6-0 run to claim a 17-11 lead with just over four minutes left in the third.
Bishop Verot (12-18) came right back, however, and tied the score at 18-18 with 6:45 to play in the fourth after a basket by senior Hunter Hand.
Dunbar senior Keanu Peniston buried a long two-point jump shot to give the Tigers back the lead at 20-18 with 5:25 left.
After a Viking turnover, it was Dunbar’s turn to stall as Peniston stood one step over half court and trimmed the game clock all the way down near two minutes before dishing to senior Kedrick Paulk for an easy layup and a four-point lead.
The Tigers were 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the game’s final two minutes and senior Chris Sutherland’s dunk sealed the stressful win for Dunbar.
“We did a good job of playing at the tempo that they set,” McGill said. “We had to play at their tempo. We don’t like it but smart teams make you play at their tempo so they can have a chance to win.”
Sutherland led all scorers with 12 points for Dunbar. Hand led the Vikings with eight points.
“We had a couple chances down the stretch and didn’t make enough plays,” Herting said. “I thought we put ourselves in a position to win but just didn’t make enough plays.”