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Phillips freshman Keyon Joiner defends vs. Dunbar.

By: Eric Van Dril   |   March 4, 2017

In many ways, Phillips’ 73-65 win over Dunbar in the Class 3A Little Phoenix Regional semifinals mirrored how many of the Wildcats’ victories have unfolded this season.

Phillips started slow. The White-Central champions initially struggled to play with the energy and urgency needed to deal with Dunbar’s swarming defense, which was effective in forcing quick decisions and created 10 turnovers in the first half.

“I don’t know why it’s like that, but it’s always like that,” Phillips junior Jayvonese Shelton said. “The first quarter is always like a warmup, especially for me. My knees — I have knee problems sometimes, so the first quarter, that’s (the time) for me to sweat. It takes me until the second quarter or the second half to get started. … But that’s just been our case all year.”

Dunbar led by five points in three different instances during the first half on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The Wildcats (12-10) looked to be on the brink of serious trouble, given the way the Mightymen were flying around on the defensive end.

But Phillips is resilient. It has been all year.

The Wildcats weathered the proverbial storm and went into halftime only trailing 29-26. And then, they did as they have done throughout this season: they adjusted, raised their energy level in the second half, shared the ball well and persevered.

“We panic in the beginning,” Phillips coach Lawrence Briggs said, “but once we settle down and figure it out, we do well. I just ask the guys to be competitive and let the score take care of itself.”

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Phillips guard Jayvonese Shelton vs. Dunbar.

Shelton’s role, as one of the team’s captains, is to supply his team with energy.

“(Briggs) wants me to go out there and lead with energy,” Shelton, a 6-foot-4 guard who’s an excellent 3-point shooter, said. “He wants me to go out and make the big shots, get on the (fast) break and dunk. Stuff like that picks our team up.”

That proved to be true in the third quarter on Tuesday evening.

Phillips outscored Dunbar 24-9 during the third.

Shelton sparked the prolonged run by draining a 3-pointer from the corner with 6:15 remaining in the quarter. On the next possession, senior forward Dexter Warren (18 points) stole the ball and scored. Shelton (21 points, five rebounds, four steals) followed with a bucket off of a Dunbar blocked shot.

In less than three minutes, Phillips had gone from trailing by five to ahead by three.

The Wildcats continued to build their lead. Senior center Johari Branch, Warren, promising freshman guard Keyon Joiner and Shelton all scored in the final five minutes of the third quarter.

Then, Phillips put the game away.

It did so with five back-breaking points in the final 10 seconds of the third. The sequence began with a steal by Joiner, who passed to Shelton in transition. Shelton slammed the ball home.

Dunbar (7-10) followed with a quick, wild 3-point attempt. Warren snared the rebound and passed upcourt quickly.

Phillips senior Dexter Warren vs. Dunbar.

Junior forward Devine Conley caught the ball on the wing, loaded and fired. He got his shot off before the buzzer sounded. Conley’s attempt bounced off of the rim and in, causing Phillips to celebrate the thrilling finish to its dominant third quarter.

Conley’s 3-pointer put the Wildcats ahead 50-38 entering the fourth quarter. They had solved the Dunbar defense in the third, increased their energy and then put the Mightymen away with a five-point flurry.

“It turned everything around,” Warren said, when asked about the sequence at the end of third. “(Dunbar’s players) started hanging their heads after we hit that 3, so we figured the game was over after that.”

It was.

Dunbar wasn’t able to mount a serious comeback in the fourth. Phillips had used a familiar formula to take control of the game and win it.

But Shelton acknowledged that the Wildcats will have to deviate from that formula in order to compete with state-ranked North Lawndale in the regional final on Friday night.

The No. 2-seeded Phoenix (21-7) are heavy favorites against No. 7 Phillips.

Therefore, “we have to start off with energy,” Shelton said. “That’s No. 1. We (have to) come out with the intensity we had in the second half of this game. We have to come out strong — very strong — and we have to give it our all from the jump ball until the end. It’s just that simple. Our coaches know it. We know it.”

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Shelton and Warren both stood out against Dunbar, but several other players had solid games. Conley finished with nine points. Evian Jefferson scored eight. Branch had six. Joiner finished with five. Senior co-captain Tyler Carothers scored four points.

Dunbar was led in scoring by senior guard Trayvon Ross, who had a game-best 27 points. Freshman guard La’Ron Owens (11 points) and senior guard Darnell White (10) also reached double-figures.