By KEVIN HARRIS
COLUMBUS – Saturday afternoon at the Orange Pit, Class 4A No. 1 New Albany found out the hard way that competing without Romeo Langford is extremely difficult.
The Bulldogs posted the second-lowest point total of the season in a 52-46 loss to Hoosier Hills Conference rival Columbus East. Their winning streak ended at 13 games.
It was the second contest New Albany played minus Langford. The All-State junior dislocated a pinky finger in practice last week and is expected to miss at least two more games because of the injury.
In the Bulldogs’ first game without Langford last Thursday at The Doghouse, New Albany (16-3, 5-1 HHC) put together an inspired second half to cruise past Jennings County 84-55. But on Saturday, that disappeared against the Olympians (7-10, 2-2).
“We just didn’t play hard. That’s probably the first time all year I’ve said. We didn’t play hard. We made some silly turnovers and took some bad shots,” New Albany head coach Jim Shannon said. “Again, these kids are playing without Romeo. They’re in a tough situation because he hides a lot of things. The mistakes you saw today would not have been mistakes because he would’ve covered for them. And they would’ve played with more confidence because he would’ve been out there scoring points.
“It’s just one of those things. It’s not the end of the world. We knew we were going to be in some tough games, and we certainly were in one today.”
The setback benefitted New Albany’s Floyd County rival, Floyd Central (14-3, 5-1). The Bulldogs, who had their Hoosier Hills winning streak snapped at 20 games, and the Highlanders are now tied for first place in the HHC.
If both squads win their next conference games, they will each clinch a share of the HHC championship. New Albany’s next Hoosier Hills contest will be Friday, Feb. 17 at Bedford North Lawrence. Floyd will close out conference play Wednesday, Feb. 22 at Columbus East. The Bulldogs have claimed three consecutive outright HHC titles, while the Highlanders’ last conference crown came in 1989.
“We’ve got one more conference game to still try to keep this championship in our hands,” Shannon said.
The main bright spot for New Albany was Sean East’s performance. For the second consecutive game, the junior point guard posted a career-high scoring total with 28 points. He had 26 in the Jennings County victory.
Bulldog junior forward Blake Murphy had eight points and five rebounds. Senior forward Tanner McFall was Columbus East’s top scorer with 17 points.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: East – Despite the loss, East might have played the best game in his Bulldog career.
East shot 9-of-18 from the field, 3-of-6 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. He scored 60.9 percent of New Albany’s points. He also snagged a game-high six rebounds, four steals and three assists.
East definitely stepped up his production as the Bulldogs dealt with Langford’s absence.
“Sean East was the only one that showed up. He played magnificent,” Shannon said. “Obviously, we know that Romeo is not here, so everybody has to step up. Thursday we did that – everybody stepped up. Today, they just didn’t.”
KEY SEQUENCE: With New Albany up 44-41 with approximately 3:40 left in regulation, the Olympians ended the game with an 11-2 run to seal the victory.
McFall scored six points during the game-winning spurt. He started the run by putting back his own missed shot to pull the Bulldogs within one point at 44-43. McFall put Columbus East up 48-44 with about 2:38 left when he made his final of three one-handed breakaway dunks during the contest.
McFall wrapped up his scoring with a pair of free throws with 22.8 seconds remaining to keep the Olympians ahead by four at 50-46.
“They just played a little better than we did down toward the end. That’s what it really came down to,” Shannon said.
UNSUNG HERO: Chaz Painter, Columbus East – The 6-foot-7 senior center, who entered the game averaging around nine points per game, scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds. Painter shot 5-of-6 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the line as New Albany had a hard time matching up with him.
WHAT NEW ALBANY DID WELL: East was the only positive for New Albany. If it was not for him, the Bulldogs might have lost by a wider margin.
New Albany shot well at the stripe, making 11-of-12 attempts (91.7 percent). But that did not make up for the Bulldogs shooting 15-of-41 from the field (36.6 percent).
AREA OF CONCERN FOR NEW ALBANY: New Albany senior Isaac Hibbard had a rough afternoon at the Orange Pit. One game after registering a career-high 27 points against Jennings County, the 6-foot guard scored only four points Saturday versus the Olympians.
Hibbard shot 1-of-10 from the floor and misfired on his four 3-point attempts. He also committed five turnovers and made just one assist.
If the Bulldogs are going to win while Langford is out, Hibbard must produce and step up his leadership role for the team even more.
Also, Shannon was not pleased with New Albany’s defense. The Bulldogs forced just 12 turnovers and allowed the Olympians to shoot 50 percent from the field (17-of-34).
“We gave them too many easy shots,” Shannon said. “Your defense has to be better when your offense is sputtering. Offensively, we sputtered. But defensively, we sputtered, too. We just gave them way too many paint shots and way too many layups.”
NEXT GAME: Home vs. Class 2A No. 2 Providence (16-1), next Friday, 7:30 p.m.
COLUMBUS EAST 52, NEW ALBANY 46
New Albany 9 13 13 11-46
Columbus East 6 14 14 18-52
New Albany (16-3, 5-1 Hoosier Hills Conference): Sean East 28, Blake Murphy 8, Isaac Hibbard 4, Julien Hunter 4, Seth Short 2, Peyton Martin 0, Savion Southers 0, Darin Starks 0, Derrick Stevenson 0.
Columbus East (7-10, 2-2): Tanner McFall 17, Chaz Painter 14, Jonathan Foster 8, Max Nolting 5, Drew Johnson 4, Matthew Frost 2, Drew Hasson 2, Thomas Myers 0.
3-point field goals: New Albany 5 (East 3, Murphy 2); Columbus East 3 (Foster 2, Nolting 1).
Rebounds: New Albany 25 (East 6); Columbus East 25 (Foster 6).
Turnovers: New Albany 12, Columbus East 12.
Total fouls: New Albany 16, Columbus East 12.
Fouled out: Murphy.
Junior varsity score: New Albany 65, Columbus East 53.