By KEVIN HARRIS
SEYMOUR – Last Saturday’s Class 4A Seymour Regional championship game at Scott Gym was a classic matchup between New Albany’s quickness and Castle’s size.
Size won on this night.
The Knights’ top two front-court players in seniors Jack Nunge and Payton Mills combined to score 42 points and grab 27 rebounds in their 72-64 victory over the defending Class 4A state champion Bulldogs. It was No. 8 Castle’s third regional title and its first since 2012. The Knights will take on Indianapolis Ben Davis (21-5) in the Class 4A Seymour Semistate at 3 p.m. this coming Saturday.
Even though Nunge draws the most attention as he will play at Iowa next season, Mills’ contributions were crucial last Saturday. The 6-foot-5 center scored a team-high 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He also grabbed nine rebounds.
“No. 32 (Mills) was a bear on the boards. He played so hard. He just plowed his way in there and we didn’t have an answer for him,” New Albany head coach Jim Shannon said. “You’ve got to take your hat off to a kid that has that much heart.
Nunge, a 6-11 power forward, tallied 20 points and snagged a game-high 18 boards. He was 8-of-16 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line.
“Nunge was just a load for us,” Shannon said. “He’s 6-11 and he’s tough for us (to defend). How do you stop that, you know? They’ve got good players. They’ve got a really good chance of winning the state.”
Teammate Alex Hemenway provided Castle (24-3) with its backcourt punch. The 6-3 sophomore guard wound up with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He joined Mills with nine rebounds to assist the Knights in winning the battle of the boards 42-26.
For the game, Castle shot 30-of-59 from the field (50.8 percent). Hemenway, Mills and Nunge combined to make 25-of-46 field-goal attempts (54.3 percent).
“I thought we got beat by a great basketball team,” Shannon said. “I think if we played 10 times, we would split it down the middle. But we’re not playing 10 times. We’re playing once. They played better. We had no answer at all for their inside-out game.”
The Knight trio’s 59 points offset another solid performance by New Albany junior Romeo Langford. The 6-foot-5 five-star swingman scored a game-high 44 points. That point total was two points off his single-game school record of 46 that he set last year in the Bulldogs’ 82-64 win over Southport’s in last year’s Class 4A Richmond Semistate.
Isaac Hibbard was the only other New Albany player that reached double figures. The senior guard ended up with 15 points, shooting 3-of-5 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.
Hibbard was one of three seniors on the top-ranked Bulldogs’ roster. The other two were guard Peyton Martin and forward Seth Short.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Langford – The Naismith All-American’s 44 points marked the seventh time in his high school career he has scored 40-plus points. Langford shot 13-of-34 from the floor, 5-of-17 from 3-point range and 13-of-16 from the stripe.
“I originally said I think we can beat them even if he gets 50, and I thought he was going to get 50 there for a while,” Castle head coach Brian Gibson said. “We definitely outscored him because we didn’t think that we could stop him. That’s what we did. I thought our kids did a nice job of taking away some of their other options. He’s a phenomenal basketball player.”
Langford also grabbed seven rebounds. He had a combined 17 rebounds in the regional, as he needs three more boards to pass former New Albany great Chad Hunter as the school’s all-time leading rebounder. Langford is already the Bulldogs’ career leading scorer with 2,079 points.
KEY SEQUENCE: Leading 49-48 early in the fourth quarter, Castle produced a 15-4 run to take its largest lead of the game at 64-52 with 3:43 remaining in regulation. Mills and Hemenway scored a combined 13 points during that stretch.
The closest the Bulldogs (25-4) got after that was seven points in two instances. With 2:03 left. Hibbard hit his lone 3 of the contest to pull New Albany to within 68-61. After a Nunge bucket, Langford knocked down a pair of free throws to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 70-63 with 1:32 remaining.
UNSUNG HERO: Mills – Shannon declared the Castle senior the game’s unsung hero even though he has been one of the Knights’ key contributors all season. Mills entered the regional averaging 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
“I thought that kid played outstanding and we weren’t expecting that from him,” Shannon said.
WHAT NEW ALBANY DID WELL: Obviously, Langford had another productive game despite shooting 38.2 percent for the game.
Hibbard finished his career with his usual solid outing. Despite the loss, New Albany shot well from the line, making 21-of-24 foul shots (87.5 percent).
AREAS OF CONCERN FOR NEW ALBANY: There were plenty in the regional final for the Bulldogs like getting outrebounded by 16, battling Castle’s size and only forcing the Knights into four turnovers.
But the biggest concern for New Albany was in the scoring department. Only four Bulldogs factored into the scoring column and Langford and Hibbard accounted for 92.1 percent of the team’s point production. New Albany junior guard Sean East, who entered the regional as the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.6 points per game, went scoreless.
For the past two seasons, the Bulldogs are pretty much unbeatable when they have at least three players score in double figures and at least six players get in the scoring column. But last Saturday, that did not happen.
CLASS 4A SEYMOUR REGIONAL
CASTLE 72, NEW ALBANY 64
New Albany 15 18 12 19-64
Castle 16 16 17 23-72
New Albany (25-4): Romeo Langford 44, Isaac Hibbard 15, Derrick Stevenson 3, Blake Murphy 2, Sean East 0, Julien Hunter 0, Savion Southers 0.
Castle (24-3): Payton Mills 22, Jack Nunge 20, Alex Hemenway 17, Brandon Eades 8, Jace Steiler 3, Triston Wilkinson 2, Jordan Baker 0, Zach Messinger 0.
3-point field goals: New Albany 7 (Langford 5, Hibbard 1, Stevenson 1); Castle 3 (Hemenway 2, Steiler 1).
Rebounds: New Albany 26 (Langford 7); Castle 42 (Nunge 18).
Turnovers: New Albany 6, Castle 4.
Free throws: New Albany 21-24, Castle 9-14.
Total fouls: New Albany 15, Castle 17.
Fouled out: none.
NEW ALBANY 57, CENTER GROVE 52
Center Grove 8 12 14 18-52
New Albany 15 9 18 15-57
Center Grove (17-8): Travis Roehling 18, Trayce Jackson-Davis 16, Joey Klaasen 9, Nate McLain 9, Lucas Doyle 0, Ben Nicoson 0, Spencer Piercefield 0.
New Albany (25-3): Langford 21, East 9, Hibbard 8, Murphy 7, Hunter 6, Stevenson 6.
3-point field goals: Center Grove 4 (McLain 3, Klaasen 1); New Albany 4 (East 1, Hibbard 1, Murphy 1, Stevenson 1).
Rebounds: Center Grove 23 (Jackson-Davis 7); New Albany 26 (Langford 10).
Turnovers: Center Grove 8, New Albany 6.
Free throws: Center Grove 8-14, New Albany 11-13.
Total fouls: Center Grove 16, New Albany 13.
Fouled out: none.