COLLEGE PARK – Watching his high school basketball career slowly end in a defeat, Fairmont Heights guard Darren Lucas-White continued to be positive.
He waved his arms attempting to pump up the crowd to make noise. Having scored eight points in the fourth quarter of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 1A State Championship, the senior believed that there was still a chance to win the game.
The response was small and tepid as time for a comeback was running out.
“We still had time to beat Dunbar (Paul Lawrence High School),” Lucas-White said. “I tried to pump the crowd up so we could be pumped up but seeing how the game (ended), its heartbreaking. From comeback after last year and trying to get another state championship but we just fell short.”
Fairmont Heights could not find a scoring rhythm against an aggressive Dunbar defense. Three players scored in double-figures including guard Dashawn Philip’s double-double performance sealed Fairmont’s fate. In their bid to win back-to-back state championships for the first time since 1970-71, the Hornets fell short, losing to Dunbar 59-48 at the Xfinity Center at the University of Maryland on March 10.
Coming off a 72-49 victory over Patterson Mill High School in the state semifinals on March 9, Head Coach Charlie “Chuck” Henry said he felt that his team would be well-prepared to play their Baltimore City opponents, citing that he studied film of more than 15 Dunbar games. Against the Huskies, Lucas-White and fellow senior Kimani Benjamin scored a combined 31 points in the victory.
Early on against Dunbar, everything favored Fairmont Heights. Senior Yearlarndo Reed, II scored back-to-back three-pointers as they ended the first quarter up by five.
However, Dunbar’s attack resurfaced in the second quarter, outscoring the Hornets 14-5, taking control of the lead heading into halftime. Philip, a six-foot-four senior, scored 15 of his game-high 27 points in the first half and attacked the paint with ease.
He worked together with sophomore forward Jamal West as a rebounding unit, frustrating Fairmont Heights’ post players and finishing with a combined 27 rebounds.
“It felt like we were rushed and not as poised as we normally are,” Henry said. “A lot of that is a tribute to what Dunbar did, and ultimately, they controlled the defensive boards. We couldn’t get many offensive rebounds today and that attributed to (offensive failures).”
The Hornets’ scoring woes continued as Lucas-White was the only scorer in the third quarter. Coming into the championship game, the Poets’ defense allowed their opponents to score 41.6 points per game during the playoffs. Poets Head Coach Cyrus Jones Sr. credits their fullcourt press as a key to stopping any attack.
While trying to fight back from the double-digit deficit, Hornets players attempted several long-range shots with little-to-no passing.
“It cannot just be a pass on the wing, it has to be a penetrating pass, and we did not get enough of those today,” Henry said. “They did a good job of taking away our transition (game), and with that, you want to get some transition points, and they weren’t there today. No transition points with no second-chance points, you are kind of setting yourself up for failure.”
With less than a minute remaining, Dunbar’s Philip scored a quick layup and took the turnover and converted it into a thunderous dunk in 13 seconds, putting the final dagger into Fairmont Heights’ season.
“When we came back to (the state championship), we expected to win again,” Reed said. “But we didn’t make any key plays that we needed to make like missing layups, stopping the ball and taking charges.”
Players wept as they accepted their finalist medals and covered their faces with their jerseys as Dunbar received their trophies. Thirteen seniors end their high school basketball careers with a loss, but Henry told his team in the locker room afterward that the success of their past in two seasons is historic. This season’s 23rd victory is a school record, Henry said and coupled with last year’s championship success, their two-year reign of dominance will be remembered for generations.
“We had a great run, and it is legendary what we have done this past couple of years,” Benjamin said. “It is legendary, and we will never forget it.”