SEYMOUR, Ind. Twice, New Albany was one defensive stop from a regional championship. Twice, with the title on the line, Bloomington North buried clutch 3-pointers. The first forced overtime. The second broke New Albany’s heart.
Sophomore reserve Malik Laffoon drilled a wide-open trey with five seconds left, lifting the Cougars (16-8) to a thrilling 46-45 triumph over the Bulldogs (18-7) in the Class 4-A boys basketball regional championship at Seymour on Saturday night. North advanced to meet No.2 Indianapolis Tech (25-2) in the one-game semistate.
New Albany went home to wonder about what-ifs. The Bulldogs missed two one-and-one free throws in the fourth quarter, elected not to foul with a three-point lead in the final seconds of regulation, and left Laffoon wide open for the game winner.
“We had it,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “It should have been over. We didn’t seal it.”
North won its first regional since 2004 despite a scoreless second quarter, despite going 3 for 16 shooting in the first half and 4 for 19 from the 3-point line until hitting the two that counted most.
The first clutch jumper was Tyler Truesdel’s. After New Albany star Leondre McBirth, who scored 22 points, missed a one-and-one in the closing seconds of regulation, North attacked down 38-35 and frantically searched for an opening behind the arc. Truesdel, off balance and falling into the North bench, drained it at the buzzer.
The second was Laffoon’s. After McBirth powered his way to a three-point play and a 45-43 lead with 22.8 seconds left, the Cougars probed as the Bulldogs scrambled defensively. With New Albany’s zone shifted to the left side of the floor, Laffoon was alone on the right. He swished it.
“When we needed it most, they came through,” North coach Andy Hodson said. “Stepping up in those moments. Wow. Wow. Both of them huge.”
New Albany had four seconds to respond but could muster nothing more than a desperation heave from the backcourt, setting off a jubilant celebration on one end and starting a trail of tears to the New Albany locker room.
The ending erased a valiant New Albany effort as it attempted to reverse an embarrassing 71-44 loss at North on Feb. 28. McBirth, who played less than 12 minutes in the first encounter because of foul trouble, exploded for 11 first-quarter points, hitting three straight 3-pointers, as New Albany took a 15-14 lead.
“McBirth is a heck of a player,” Hodson said. “When he’s out on the floor, he’s a scorer. When we played them at our place, that wasn’t them. We knew they would be primed and ready to play us.”
North’s second-quarter performance was staggering. The Cougars went 0-for-the-quarter, missing four treys and everything else as New Albany’s perfect scenario played out. Dustin Cochran’s bomb at the halftime buzzer bounced in for a 22-14 lead, and he started the third quarter with two more treys as the Bulldogs roared to their biggest advantage at 28-16.
The Cougars clawed back. New Albany had only one field goal in the final five minutes of the quarter, and two Saikou Jallow baskets highlighted North’s closure within 30-24. Grant Sims drilled a trey to cut the margin to 30-28, and the chess game began.
New Albany was in position for checkmate. Cochran’s two free throws with 26.5 seconds left, for a 38-35 lead, were followed by a North turnover. But when McBirth missed, it gave North a way of escape.
“At crunch time we made some mental mistakes,” Shannon said. “In a game like that, playing for a chance to go to the semistate, you just can’t make mental errors. And we made a couple. Make the free throws and you don’t have to worry about it. Game over.”
Cochran finished with 11 points. Sims had 14 for North. Truesdel was 1 of 10 from deep until the dagger that forced overtime, and Laffoon was 1 of 4 until the final shot ended the postseason classic, with New Albany denied its first regional title since 2008.
“It’s great to keep playing,” Hodson said. “I’m just ecstatic. We’re in the Final Four.”
The IHSAA will announce the semistate site for North – either Richmond or a return trip to Seymour – today.
– Jeff Byrne 2, DeAnthony Warren 2, Leondre McBirth 22, Dustin Cochran 11, Isaac Hibbard 2, Davon Winburn 4, Nick White 2.New Albany (18-7)
– Tyler Truesdel 8, Grant Sims 14, Saikou Jallow 8, Malik Laffoon 7, Kaleb Ferrell 7, Ken Montgomery 2.Bloomington North (16-8)
– McBirth 3, Cochran 3, Winburn 1, Truesdel 2, Sims 2, Laffoon 2.3-point goals