There was no shortage of emotion inside Johnson Arena on Friday night. Hype for the 158th installment of Southern Indiana’s most passionate rivalry, New Albany vs. Jeffersonville, was as expected – a sold-out crowd, dueling student sections and a sea of red, white and black.
When the dust settled, though, New Albany settled in.
The Bulldogs (8-2, 2-0 Hoosier Hills) used a strong all-around performance from junior guard Romeo Langford and timely buckets down the stretch to outlast the host Red Devils (7-4, 1-1 HHC) 67-56 Friday night. The five-star prospect poured in 32 points, nabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists for the fourth-ranked Bulldogs, who have won five in a row after dropping two straight.
Jeffersonville committed eight first-quarter turnovers but managed to cut its deficit to seven entering halftime. New Albany went on to shoot 52 percent in the second half and hit 10 of 13 free throws in the third and fourth quarters.
Senior guard Isaac Hibbard added 13 points for New Albany, and junior point Sean East tallied 11. Bailey Falkenstein, a junior guard, led Jeffersonville with 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting. Junior forward Gerrin Moore had 14 points and six rebounds for the Red Devils, and senior guard Mike Minton totaled nine on three 3-pointers.
With the win, New Albany extended its rivalry win streak to five games dating back to 2014. The Bulldogs now lead the all-time series 82-76, although the official count is debated.
“This will always be a rivalry – it doesn’t matter how many in a row we’ve won,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “It’s been too close over the decades to ever not be.
“From one pressure-cooker to another – we played well enough to win. I thought Jeff had a lot to do with it. They played hard. They’ve got some good players. … Everywhere we go, everyone gives us their best shot, and that’s how it’s going to be. We’re going to have to take it.”
New Albany led 7-0 early in the first quarter before the Red Devils’ first basket from Falkenstein with 4:22 showing. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Hibbard later extended the Bulldogs’ lead, which was 18-8 after the first period. Jeffersonville shot 4 of 6 in the first quarter but committed the eight miscues.
The second quarter proved to be a different story for the Red Devils. The hosts shot 6-for-12 from the field, including a 3-for-4 clip from beyond the arc, and entered halftime trailing 34-27 after a half-court heave from Minton at the buzzer. The senior hit all three of Jeffersonville’s second-quarter 3-pointers. The Red Devils forced nine first-half turnovers.
“A lot of it was youth at the beginning,” Jeffersonville coach Joe Luce said. “Just getting our feet underneath us and trying to get into what we needed to have as our game plan. … Once we were able to settle in, I thought we played some very good basketball.”
The Red Devils inched to within five early in the third quarter and trailed 45-39 with 3:35 left in the period, but a 3-pointer from Langford upped the Bulldogs’ lead back to 10 with under three minutes remaining, and a pair of free throws from Romeo made it 56-42 with 33.1 seconds left. New Albany entered the fourth with a 56-44 advantage.
“I just told them at halftime, ‘Let’s just get back out and play our game,’” Shannon said. “’Let’s go out and play, we’ll be fine, but we’ve got to do a better job defensively, and we definitely have to make sure we’re not just giving them easy shots.’ I thought we were giving them a lot of easy looks tonight.”
Langford tallied the Bulldogs’ first three buckets in the fourth quarter, and although Moore brought the Red Devils back within single digits, New Albany nailed 5 of 7 fourth-quarter free throws.
“We’ll build on this,” Luce said. “ … We watched Bailey Falkenstein prove that he’s, in my opinion, the second-best player in this area. That takes nothing away from him. Romeo Langford just happens to be the second-best player in the country.”
Both teams are back in action on Saturday, as New Albany travels to Seymour (3-5, 0-2 HHC) and Jeffersonville hosts its Southern Indiana Classic. The Red Devils meet Louisville Manual at 6 p.m.
New Albany 67, Jeffersonville 56
Bulldogs (8-2, 2-0 Hoosier Hills): Romeo Langford 32p, 7r, 4a; Isaac Hibbard 13p; Sean East 11p; Julien Hunter 4p, 3r; Blake Murphy 2p, 2r; Savion Southers 2p; Derrick Stevenson 3p, 4r, 2a
Red Devils (7-4, 1-1 Hoosier Hills): Bailey Falkenstein 20p; Joe LaGrange 4p: Gerrin Moore 14p, 6r; Mike Minton 9p; Cam Northern 2p, 2r; Jacob Jones 4p; Tre Coleman 3p, 4r