NEW ALBANY, Ind. – New Albany junior Romeo Langford made his return to the hardwood Friday night, and it didn’t take long for the five-star guard to reacquaint himself.
In his first game back from a dislocated pinky finger, in front of yet another sellout New Albany crowd that included Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and North Carolina coach Roy Williams, Langford tallied 14 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks to pace the Class 4A No. 4 Bulldogs (17-3) to a 55-40 win over 2A No. 1 Providence (16-2).
New Albany jumped out to a 26-9 halftime lead and weathered a third-quarter run en route to victory. The Pioneers, per usual, slowed the tempo, but the Bulldogs opened it up with 15 and 18 points in the first and fourth quarters, respectively. Junior Sean East led all scorers with 18 points. For Providence, senior Eli Coker led the way with 17.
New Albany has now won its past five meetings against the Pioneers, who have beaten the Bulldogs just twice since 2000.
“Any time somebody holds the ball like that, it’s tough,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “We were up 26-9 at halftime, we come back in the second half thinking the tempo was going to go up. They stayed right with it. Kids just have to be patient. I thought Romeo did a lot of other things. He blocked a couple shots, he got a couple offensive rebounds and got fouled. That’s hard to do when you’re coming back from an injury.”
Langford, who missed the past two games, was cleared on Thursday and had his finger wrapped for Friday’s matchup with Providence. The discomfort was evident, Langford said. Still, the junior went 5-for-10 from the floor and 3-for-4 from the free-throw line.
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“It felt good,” Langford said. “First game back, I wasn’t able to do some of the things that I wanted to do. It was kind of difficult to play with the wrap on my finger, but we got the win, so that’s all that matters.”
New Albany led 5-0 midway through the first quarter before Langford’s first bucket – a fadeaway 3-pointer from the right corner – extended the advantage. A 3-pointer from sophomore Derrick Stevenson made a 13-4 lead for the Bulldogs with 1:30 showing, but the Pioneers trailed 15-9 after one. Providence shot 4-for-6 in the opening quarter but turned it over six times.
The hosts opened up a sizeable lead in the second quarter behind their star returner. Langford’s second basket lifted New Albany to a 10-point lead early before the junior assisted on back-to-back baskets. The Bulldogs led 26-9 at the break. New Albany turned in a 10-for-17 shooting clip in the first half. The third quarter, though, proved different.
After going scoreless in the second period, Providence opened the third on an 11-2 run to cut its deficit to 33-22 with three minutes remaining. East responded with a 3-pointer, but a floater from sophomore Landon Sprigler brought the Pioneers within 37-26 at the end of the third.
“We just got the ball inside more,” Providence coach Andrew Grantz said. “I just thought we were too passive in the first half. We wanted to be deliberate in our attack, but we wanted to be deliberate to make them come out and pressure us and create more space for us. I thought, when they did that, we went side-to-side too much in the first half. In the second half, we did a better job of getting downhill.”
The first points of the game for Providence senior Juston Betz inched the Pioneers to within 12 points of the defending 4A state champions midway through the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs wouldn’t waver, though. Langford answered with a 3-point play, and New Albany kept its distance by way of the free-throw line late.
Up next for the Bulldogs is a rescheduled meeting with Evansville Central at 4 p.m. Saturday. Originally an 8 p.m. tip, the game was moved due to Central’s girls team advancing in postseason play. Providence will look to bounce back at Rock Creek on Tuesday.
New Albany 55, Providence 40
Bulldogs (17-3): Romeo Langford 14p, 10r, 5a, 3b; Sean East 18p, 2a; Isaac Hibbard 2p; Julien Hunter 9p, 7r; Derrick Stevenson 10p; Savion Southers 2p
Pioneers (16-2): Juston Betz 2p, 4r; Eli Coker 17p; Alex Judd 7p, 7r; Cullen Ebert 3p; Landon Sprigler 6p; Dawson Mitchell 5p, 3r