New Albany is back where it thought it always belonged — atop the Hoosier Hills Conference.
The Bulldogs clinched a share of the crown on Friday night, handling Bedford North Lawrence 68-47 behind the offensive punch of Leondre McBirth (24 points) and DeAnthony Warren (career-high 20). New Albany (13-5, 6-1 Hoosier Hills) will now hope for a little help from Jeffersonville, of all teams, in order to win the title outright.
Columbus East (14-3, 5-1) defeated Madison 59-50 in Friday night’s other game with significant conference implications. The Olympians will complete their league slate at Jeffersonville on Wednesday.
Shared or alone, New Albany will take it. The Bulldogs extended their record number of HHC titles to 16, ending a three-year drought after winning nine of 10 from 2001 to 2010.
“It really feels good,” coach Jim Shannon said. “We got spoiled around here. You start taking it for granted and you never should. It’s like riding a motorcycle. You feel safe and confident, but it can get you if you get cocky. We got cocky. Droughts aren’t fun and you never know when you’ll get it back.”
BNL (9-10, 4-3) and Madison could have created a four-way tie at the top with road wins. The Stars started in that direction, playing a near-perfect first quarter en route to a 15-9 lead. They set the tempo with patience on offense and hit 5 of 6 shots, and the Bulldogs countered with jack-knife misses.
McBirth steered New Albany out of danger. He exploded for 15 second-quarter points, drilling jumper after jumper from inside BNL’s soft zone. His eruption highlighted the Bulldogs’ 20-3 run to a 29-18 lead, and his falling-out-of-bounds, last-second 3-pointer from in front of the BNL bench gave them a shot of momentum and a 32-23 advantage at the half.
“We started out shooting so poorly,” Shannon said. “And they were just saying, ‘Go ahead.’ It was embarrassing. They just backed off and we kept missing. So it was ugly. But we had too much firepower offensively.”
Warren, undersized in the post, had the biggest role in New Albany’s breakaway in the second half. He hit his last six shots, including a slam dunk off a Davon Winburn lob, and McBirth took a steal the the length of the court for a dunk as the Bulldogs finally got up to speed.
“That’s when we’re playing our best basketball,” Shannon said. “We found a group we really liked. It’s our best offensive group, and we’re going to have to go with that. You want your best defenders out there, but if you can’t score, it doesn’t matter how good your defense is.”
BNL coach Jamie Hudson bemoaned his defense. The Bulldogs shot 57 percent, with McBirth and Warren combining to convert 19 of 25, all but erasing New Albany’s tepid 4-of-16 start.
“We let guys shoot jumpers without putting a hand in their face,” Hudson said. “Anybody can shoot with nobody guarding them. It was awful defensively. Teams are shooting 60 percent almost every game, and that comes down to having a little pride in the defense, to not let them score.”
The Stars were led by Blaze Byrer with 12 points and Morgan Cummings with 11, including three deep 3-pointers.
New Albany’s bench also made key contributions, with Winburn and freshman Isaac Hibbard scoring eight points each. New Albany also punished BNL on the boards with a 27-13 edge. What shots the Dogs missed, they followed with 11 offensive rebounds.
“You have to block out because they offensive rebound so well,” Hudson said. “That was the No. 1 thing on the board. Our guys couldn’t figure that out. They got second-chance points all night long. The whole game was offensive rebounds.”
|Bedford North Lawrence||15||8||13||11||–||47|
– Byrer 12, Garrison 8, Day 8, Turner 6, Cummings 11, Stockman 2.Bedford North Lawrence (9-10)
– Reeves 4, McBirth 24, Warren 20, Hibbard 8, Winburn 8, Hickman 4.New Albany (13-5)
– Cummings 3, Day 1, Turner 1, McBirth 2, Warren 1, Hibbard 2.3-point goals