By KEVIN HARRIS
SEYMOUR – Class 4A No. 1 New Albany had to fight hard against archrival Floyd Central in the Class 4A Seymour Sectional championship game Saturday night at Scott Gym.
But when the dust settled, the Bulldogs showed the perseverance that has made them so successful the past couple of years as they won their fourth consecutive sectional championship 54-38.
New Albany (24-3), the defending Class 4A state champion, will return to Seymour next Saturday for the Class 4A regional. The Bulldogs will face Center Grove (17-7) in the first semifinal at 10 a.m., followed by Bloomington South (22-4) versus No. 8 Castle (22-3) at approximately noon. The regional final will be at 8 p.m.
“It feels good to be back at regional. We hope we keep on going,” said New Albany junior guard Sean East, who played a starring role in giving the Bulldogs their 52nd overall sectional crown.
East wound up with a game-high 18 points, while standout teammate Romeo Langford had 16 points and a game-high six rebounds. Langford hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter to eclipse the 2,000-point barrier in his high school career.
New Albany senior guard Isaac Hibbard wound up with 11 points and six assists.
After the Bulldogs pulled out to a 11-0 lead at the game’s outset, the Highlanders (19-5) extended their trapping zone defense and slowed down New Albany.
From that point to the end of the third quarter, Floyd Central outscored the Bulldogs 35-24 to tie the score at 35. The Highlanders also kept Langford in check in the first three quarters, as the NCAA Division I recruit had just nine points.
“We probably defended them as well as anybody has all year,” Floyd Central head coach Todd Sturgeon said.
New Albany pulled away in the fourth. In the final period, the Bulldogs outscored the Highlanders 19-3 and held Floyd to 0-of-6 shooting in the stanza.
“All I know was it was working,” New Albany head coach Jim Shannon said about Floyd’s trap in the first three periods. “We made some adjustments and got some good looks after that. I thought our defense stepped up (in the fourth). We wore them down.”
The Highlanders had no one score in double figures. Six-foot-8 center Trevor Apple led Floyd with nine points. Teammate Luke Gohmann had eight points and a team-high five rebounds. Apple and 6-1 guard Tyler Kimm, who scored eight points, are the lone two seniors on Floyd’s roster.
The Highlanders suffered a major blow late in the game. Floyd sophomore forward Cobie Barnes sat out most of the fourth quarter, as he was treated for cramps in both legs.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: East – The Bulldog point guard ended up 6-of-8 from 3-point range and rose to the occasion when Langford was struggling against Floyd’s trap.
“They were triple-teaming and quadruple-teaming Romeo. Someone had to step up,” East said.
A few of East’s 3-pointers came at key times in the game. He hit a pair of 3’s during New Albany’s game-opening 11-0 run. After Floyd deadlocked the game at 11, East nailed a 3 to give the Bulldogs a 14-11 advantage. He also hit two crucial 3’s early in the fourth.
“He was special tonight,” Shannon said. “He played the way a point guard is supposed to play.”
KEY SEQUENCE: New Albany put the game away with a 10-0 spurt at the start of the fourth to go up 45-35. East’s two big 3’s in the fourth came during that run.
“East hit a couple of big shots and we had a couple of empty possessions,” Sturgeon said.
UNSUNG HEROES: New Albany – Derrick Stevenson and Blake Murphy: Shannon praised both players for doing the little things that did not show up in the box score for helping the Bulldogs prevail. Stevenson converted a fast-break layup during New Albany’s 11-0 run at the game’s outset. With the Bulldogs trailing 32-30 with 2:36 left in the fourth, Murphy knocked down a huge 3 from the corner to give them a one-point advantage.
Floyd Central – Apple: He played tough inside and got the ball in the bucket at critical points in the game for Floyd. He had three points during Floyd’s 11-0 spurt early in the game that helped it tie the game at 11 early in the second. Apple scored the Highlanders’ first four points in the third with a layup and a hook shot to deadlock the game at 27.
WHAT BOTH TEAMS DID WELL: New Albany – The Bulldogs shot well from 3-point range, making 10-of-17 from behind the arc (58.8 percent). Of course, East played a huge part in that accuracy. Hibbard had a great floor game. New Albany’s experienced players stepped up big after being challenged by a hungry Highlander team; Floyd Central – The Highlanders’ defense was solid again. Plus, Floyd did not pack up its tent when it was down by 11 points in the first.
AREAS OF CONCERN FOR BOTH TEAMS: New Albany – The Bulldogs had trouble on offense when Floyd’s trap seemed to confuse them some in the second and third quarters. They should expect more teams to throw different defensive schemes at them as the tournament goes on. But New Albany has seen all sorts of defenses the last two years and persevered almost every time; Floyd Central – The Highlanders struggled making shots, ending up 13-of-34 from the field (38.2 percent).
NEW ALBANY’S NEXT GAME: Class 4A Seymour Regional semifinal, vs. Center Grove (17-7), next Saturday, 10 a.m.
CLASS 4A SEYMOUR SECTIONAL
NEW ALBANY 54, FLOYD CENTRAL 38
Floyd Central 8 15 12 3-38
New Albany 11 11 13 19-54
Floyd Central (19-5): Trevor Apple 9, Luke Gohmann 8, Tyler Kimm 8, Matthew Weimer 6, Cobie Barnes 5, Brendon Hobson 2, Evan Nichols 0, Gabe Shireman 0.
New Albany (24-3): Sean East 18, Romeo Langford 16, Isaac Hibbard 11, Derrick Stevenson 6, Blake Murphy 3, Julien Hunter 0, Savion Southers 0.
3-point field goals: Floyd Central 4 (Kimm 2, Barnes 1, Gohmann 1); New Albany 10 (East 6, Langford 2, Hibbard 1, Murphy 1).
Rebounds: Floyd Central 19 (Gohmann 5); New Albany 20 (Langford 6).
Turnovers: Floyd Central 8, New Albany 7.
Free throws: Floyd Central 8-10, New Albany 14-15.
Total fouls: Floyd Central 17, New Albany 14.
Fouled out: none.