When New Town and Dunbar met in last year's Class 1A state title game, the Baltimore City school had little trouble in a 24-point win. The two teams played again in this year's championship match-up, and this time New Town nearly pulled off a big upset.
The Titans rallied in the second half and took the lead in the closing minutes. But Dunbar used a late six-point run to take the lead, and the Poets hung on for a 54-52 victory over the New Town in this year's Class 1A championship game at the Comcast Center in College Park on Saturday.
New Town took a 13-10 lead after the first quarter, and even though Dunbar got back in front and stayed there for most of the rest of the way, the Titans kept battling back. And Dunbar noticed.
"Whew!" Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones Sr. said when he walked into the post-game interview room.
Everyone knew what he meant.
New Town kept chipping away until it took a 50-48 lead on Justin Brown's three-point play with 2:39 left. But Kamau Stokes sparked a six-point run with a two baskets, and Kenadre Gibson added two free throws for a 54-50 Dunbar lead with 54.8 seconds left.
Danny Shand made a driving layup 16 seconds later to cut the lead back to two, and New Town got a chance to tie in the closing seconds. But the Titans couldn't get a great shot, and Keith Wainwright missed a reverse lay-up with about four seconds left.
"New Town played us tough, probably one of the best, well-coached teams we've played all year," Jones said. "They kept playing the whole time."
Brown led the Titans with 18 points, and Shand added 12, but the Titans couldn't overcome one big problem-- free throws.
New Town shot 45 percent from the field, good numbers compared to Dunbar's 29 percent. However, the Titans just couldn't hit from the free throw-line, and that may have been the difference.
They made only 13 of 35 free throws, missing several chances to pull closer in the second half. Dunbar, on the other hand, made 23 of 32 (72 percent).
The poor free-throw shooting left New Town coach Mike Daniel shaking his head afterwards.
"We usually hit foul shots," Daniel said. "It was just one of those games. It was like a team thing."
Daniel said it was frustrating because the Titans thought they could give the Poets a run for their money.
"We felt we could beat them," he said.
They almost did.