Dunbar put a positive spin on a tumultuous series of postseason events by outlasting Fenwick 27-26 in a boys high school basketball sectional final on Wednesday night at UD Arena.
The offensively challenged win sends Dunbar (18-4) into a Division II district final against Cincinnati Woodward at 3 p.m. Saturday at Hamilton High School. That site was switched by the Southwest District prior to the game.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association disqualified Dunbar from the tournament the previous Wednesday, citing an ineligible player. Dayton City League rival Thurgood Marshall was put in Dunbar’s place in the D-II bracket, because that was the last team Dunbar beat in the sectional semifinals.
However, Dayton Public Schools and Dunbar contested that decision and a ruling in Dayton Municipal Court on Tuesday allowed Dunbar back into the tourney and knocked Thurgood out. Both teams had been practicing, not knowing which would play Fenwick.
It was the second time in about 18 months the OHSAA had disqualified Dunbar from a postseason. The Wolverines also were dismissed from the 2016 football playoffs for an ineligible player.
“We’ve had a long week,” admitted a spent Dunbar coach Chuck Taylor, in his first season with the Wolverines. “Some of (the Dunbar players were) involved with the football situation. For it to happen in basketball, it was just a double whammy.”
That includes leading scorer and junior Jonathan Allen (seven points) and Jo-Jo-Scates (six points). Allen’s free throw put Dunbar up 25-22 with 1:58 left. Then it was Scates’ turn. He jumped off the court to save a loose ball and flipped it to Kadar Gardner for what stood as the winning bucket and 27-24 lead.
“(The OHSAA), they’re always picking on Dunbar,” said Scates, a talented receiver who signed with Iowa State University to play football. “It’s like a tradition, now. There’s a lot of doubt that goes on in the city against Dunbar. We take that as motivation and use it to our advantage.”
Fittingly, the game also was an oddity. Fenwick (17-7) was packed in a tight zone defense like it had mostly used to win a Greater Catholic League Co-Ed North championship. Dunbar hoped to draw the Falcons out by holding the ball.
Instead, the final four minutes of the third quarter and the opening five minutes of the fourth quarter were spent with Dunbar players standing still with the ball and Fenwick defenders watching motionless.
“I didn’t know what was going on until my coach explained it to me,” Scates said. “I said, oh, I get what we’re doing now. I was kind of confused about it myself.”
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Fans from both teams erupted throughout, pleading for action.
“We had to figure out a way to bring those guys out,” said Taylor.
Fenwick’s C.J. Napier hit two free throws with 5.8 seconds left to account for the final score. However, he missed the third. But Allen also missed a following free throw for Dunbar.
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That gave Fenwick one final possession, but Napier was tied up at half court and couldn’t get a shot off. John Engelmeier led Fenwick with 12 points.
“It ended up working,” Taylor said. “We’re just happy to move on.”