After a fast start, Dunbar High boys’ basketball slumped in the final weeks of the regular season. The Poets have rebounded, and Tuesday, picked one of their biggest state postseason triumphs.

No. 12 Dunbar defeated sixth-ranked Lake Clifton, 51-46, in a Class 2A North Region Section I semifinal. Senior guard Damonte Moore scored 11 points for the Poets (19-5 overall), and Dashawn Phillip and Malik McCormick each added 10.

The iconic Baltimore City program scored the final seven points in regulation, winning the first state postseason meeting with its longtime east Baltimore rival. The Poets will play at second-ranked and city league Division I champ Patterson Thursday in a 2A Sweet 16 match.

The Orleans Street school, which has a state-best 15 championships, is on to the next round thanks to a gritty effort down the stretch. The Poets started the season 13-0 before going 4-5 over their final nine regular season matches.

Dunbar coach Diego Jones was proud of his team’s “mental toughness.”

“Our guys really showed that they grew up tonight,” said. “Making stops and making the plays like they did on the road in this type of environment — not only was this a playoff game, this was a rivalry that has always been for years.”

“We just perserved and played team basketball,” said Phillip. “We just left it on the court.”

The Poets got several contributions down the stretch to avenge a 58-56 loss to Lakers early last month. Malik McCormick got Dunbar even at 46 on a successful drive with 1 minute, 13 seconds left in regulation.

Lake Clifton (19-5) was whistled for an offensive foul, and Moore was fouled on a drive to the basket. He converted both free throws, giving Dunbar a 48-46 lead with 52 seconds left in regulation. The teams exchanged turnovers, leaving Lake Clifton with possession with 27 seconds left to play.

Jamal West, a recent call up from the Poets’ junior varsity, corralled Benjamin Carter’s miss and got the ball to Qualil Giles, who was fouled with nine seconds left in regulation. Giles, a junior, converted both double bonus free throws, extending the lead to 50-46.

The Poets went nine of 10 from the line in the fourth quarter.

“It was a great team effort,” said Howard, whose team finished 15-of-19 from the charity stripe. “Coach preach to us about the we-team or me-team. Tonight, we showed the we-team.”

Dunbar led 22-19 at halftime before taking the largest advantage by either team, 25-19, early in the third quarter. Lake Clifton battled back to claim a 34-31 lead late in the third, but a basket from West and Howard’s 3-pointer from the corner before the buzzer, put the Poets up, 36-34, going into the final eight minutes.

After four lead changes and two ties, Lake Clifton had a 46-44 lead after two free throws from Andre Rafus. Rafus, who had 30 points including winning score in the last meeting, had only nine points Tuesday. 

His free throws were also the final points of the season for Lake Clifton, which didn’t have junior guard Rasheed Brown the final two weeks because of a knee injury. Freshman Michael Gray led the Lakers with 10 points. 

Lakers coach Herman Harried said his team’s failed to execute in the final minute.

“We just didn’t finish well,” said Harried, who has 397 wins in 20 seasons as Lakers coach. “Dunbar made the right plays and we turned the ball over and missed free throws.”

The Poets will get a second shot at Patterson, which escaped with a 49-47 victory at Dunbar during the regular season. The winner will play either defending state champ New Town, Randallstown or Western Tech in the region final Saturday.

“All season, I’ve tried to get my guys to understand about playing with each other and for each other. As long as we do that, we’ll be successful,” said Jones. “Tonight, it was a total team effort.” 

Class 2A North Region Section I semifinal

No. 12 Dunbar 51, No. 6 Lake Clifton 46

Dunbar – Phillip 10, Moore 11, Chenery 8, Giles 2, McCormick 10, West 8, McCray 2. Totals 17 15-19 51.

Lake Clifton – Gray 10, Carter 2, Brown 7, Rafus 9, Green 8, Hite 8, Lucas 2. Totals 17 11-15 46.

Dunbar 11 11 13 16 – 51

Lake Clifton 10 9 15 12 – 46