By KEVIN HARRIS
NEW ALBANY – All season, opponents have taken their best shots at knocking off defending Class 4A state champion New Albany.
On Saturday night at The Doghouse, it was Indianapolis Manual’s turn to try to down the Class 4A No. 3 Bulldogs. The physical Redskins pushed New Albany to the limit, building a 12-point lead late in the third quarter.
But the Bulldogs refused to lose. They came from behind and defeated Manual in overtime 76-72. New Albany extended its winning streak to four games. The Bulldogs also lengthened their homecourt winning streak to 29 games.
“It was a great high school basketball game,” New Albany head coach Jim Shannon said. “It was a tournament atmosphere. It had talent. Both teams had kids playing hard and going to the rim. What a game and what a comeback for us.”
Manual (14-6) took a 48-36 lead with 51.3 seconds left in the third period when senior guard Courvoisier McCauley converted a three-point play.
With the Redskins holding a 55-46 lead with more than six minutes remaining in regulation, New Albany junior guard Sean East made a rare five-point play to pull the Bulldogs (20-3) within four points. East nailed a 3-pointer at 5:56 mark, then drew a foul shortly thereafter that put him at the line. The junior hit both free throws to cut the Manual lead to 55-51.
“It was huge,” Shannon said about East’s five straight points. “I thought he played much better in the second half. I didn’t think he was in the attack mode in the first half. I thought he played better defensively in the second half.”
East gave New Albany a 57-56 lead with 3:23 remaining by swishing a free throw. The Redskins responded with four straight free throws to go up 60-57 with 1:15 left. But at the 59-second mark, New Albany junior Romeo Langford knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 60. McCauley missed a desperation 3 at the buzzer to force overtime.
Langford took control of the game in the extra session. He scored the first five points of the overtime to give New Albany a 65-60 advantage. He began overtime with a baseline jumper, followed by a three-point play that included a dunk. Langford made a layup with less than two minutes left to put New Albany up 71-63.
Manual, though, did not go away quietly. Reserve guard Wilanta Hankston hit a 3 in the corner with seven seconds remaining to pull the Redskins within two at 74-72. But East sealed the victory with a pair of free throws with 5.9 ticks left.
“Down the stretch, I felt really good. In the fourth quarter and overtime, I felt really good. I thought we were going to win the game,” Shannon said. “I think the kids finally got some confidence when we hit a couple of shots and the crowd really helped us. That sparked us to turn them over a little bit and they started missing some shots.”
Langford ended up with a game-high 40 points, marking the third time this season he has scored at least 40. The 6-foot-5 swingman also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
New Albany senior guard Isaac Hibbard scored 16 points, while East chipped in 13. McCauley, who entered the game averaging about 27 points per game, led Manual with 32 points and eight rebounds.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Langford – The five-star player went 10-of-18 from the field, 4-of-9 from 3-point range and 16-of-21 from the free-throw line. Langford seemed to be more comfortable shooting the ball after he dislocated his pinky finger a couple of weeks ago.
Langford became Floyd County’s all-time leading scorer on Saturday night, as he now has 1,906 career points.
“He’s the real deal. We all know that,” Shannon said. “He got to the line 21 times. He hit 16 out of 21 – that’s pretty daggone good. And he hit four 3’s, so that looks like that’s back for him. We’ve got him hitting 3’s, got him going to the line and his 2’s always take care of themselves. He had some rebounds and ended up defending the best player on their team (McCauley) for a large part of the second half.”
KEY SEQUENCE: East’s five-point play swung the game’s momentum back to the Bulldogs. If it was not for that play, New Albany might have seen its home win streak conclude.
UNSUNG HERO: Julien Hunter, New Albany – Despite scoring just three points, the 6-3 Hunter battled hard against Manual’s taller players throughout the contest. He showed his toughness inside by grabbing seven rebounds.
Hunter stepped up his game a lot with 6-4 junior forward Blake Murphy being inactive because of the flu.
“I was very pleased with Julien Hunter,” Shannon said. “He had some big rebounds. He was going against men. I mean, those kids were men.”
WHAT NEW ALBANY DID WELL: The Bulldogs displayed a lot of mental toughness in coming back and defeating a solid Class 3A squad.
Shannon thinks Saturday’s game should help his players when the state tournament starts.
“I told the guys at halftime that this is a great game for us,” Shannon said. “I told them during the game out there when we looked like we were losing and going to get beat, I said, ‘Hey, this is a great game for us. It’s a tune-up before the tournament. If you get to the semistate again, this is what you’re going to see, so figure out if you want to beat teams like this or not because this is what you’re going to see.’”
AREA OF CONCERN FOR NEW ALBANY: Late in the second quarter and for most of the third, New Albany’s offense seemed to really struggle, especially when Manual went to a 1-3-1 trapping defense. As a result, the Redskins turned a 21-19 deficit midway through the second to a 48-36 advantage late in the third.
The Bulldogs cannot afford to have long, tough stretches like that in the postseason if they are to make another run at a state title.
NEXT GAME: Home vs. Bloomington North (12-8), Friday, 7:30 p.m. (Senior Night at New Albany)
NEW ALBANY 76, INDIANAPOLIS MANUAL 72, OT
Manual 12 19 20 9 12-72
New Albany 14 12 15 19 16-76
Manual (14-6): Courvoisier McCauley 32, Nathan Merriweather 11, Jaron Glenn 9, Cameron Sembly 9, Amari Evans 4, Jalen Johnson 4, Wilanta Hankston 3, Montez McNair 0, T.J. Waldon 0, Coadie Barnett 0.
New Albany (20-3): Romeo Langford 40, Isaac Hibbard 16, Sean East 13, Julien Hunter 3, Trey Hourigan 2, Derrick Stevenson 2, Marcus McGee 0, Savion Southers 0.
3-point field goals: Manual 7 (Merriweather 3, McCauley 2, Hankston 1, Sembly 1); New Albany 7 (Langford 4, Hibbard 2, East 1).
Rebounds: Manual 28 (McCauley 8); New Albany 29 (Langford 10).
Turnovers: Manual 15, New Albany 12.
Total fouls: Manual 28, New Albany 17.
Fouled out: Glenn, Johnson, McCauley, Merriweather; Hunter.
Junior varsity score: New Albany 69, Manual 26.