Notre Dame 80,

Southern Md. Christian 66

No. 11 Notre Dame saw an old version of itself sitting on its visiting bench last night in No. 17 Southern Maryland Christian, and the Dragons knew exactly the capabilities of a potent, yet inexperienced team like that.

Notre Dame built a 20-point lead midway through the third quarter, only to see the Mustangs whittle it down to four, before the Dragons pulled away for an 80-66 victory in a Beltway League game. It was Southern Maryland Christian's first defeat after winning its first 16 games.

Junior swingman Joe Posey scored a game-high 27 points for Notre Dame (12-2, 1-0 Beltway), showcasing one of the area's best long-range jump shots. The Washington area leader in three-point baskets per game made five more, but also showed explosiveness to the basket at other times.

Two years ago, Notre Dame Academy's boys' basketball program was in the same position as Southern Maryland Christian's is now. The Dragons were an upstart team with plenty of ambition that had yet to knock off any elite team from the Washington area.

Last season, though, the Dragons defeated Montrose Christian and also made The Post's rankings for the first time in school history. This season, they have knocked off St. John's, Bullis, and well-regarded Laurinburg (N.C.).

"Obviously, we've been in this situation where we are the hunter instead of the hunted," Notre Dame Coach Larry Cullinane said. "We know what it is like. They're still trying to prove themselves. We did that last year. In order to get to that level, you have to beat teams at that level."

Southern Maryland Christian, which is in the third year of its revamped program, knows it will not get the name recognition many of the area's choice teams receive until it defeats one of those powers.

"Getting our name out there and to the next level is what we're trying to do," Southern Maryland Christian Coach Dale Becraft said. "We're three years into this and we're ahead of schedule."

While it is still extremely talented, Notre Dame's strengths lie in different areas than last season when it relied on senior guards Todd Galloway and Daevon Haskins to control games. Now, the Dragons have an inexperienced back court, which makes them susceptible to pressure, but perhaps the most front-court depth in the area with five players in its rotation at least 6 feet 7.

"Last year, we were more guard-oriented," Posey said. "We had guys who could penetrate and get me the ball. Now, because we're younger there, it just makes me work that much harder."

Posey worked plenty to get Notre Dame out to a 55-35 lead midway through the third quarter. But the Dragons scored just one field goal over the next 7 minutes 47 seconds. Southern Maryland Christian used pressure to cut the lead to 61-57. But Posey keyed an 8-0 Notre Dame run after that.