New Albany’s Leondre McBirth broke one of the cardinal rules of defense – leaving a shooter – to save the Bulldogs on Saturday morning.
McBirth swooped in from the 3-point line to block a baseline drive by Evansville Central’s Beau Dedmond in the final seconds, preserving New Albany’s 47-45 victory over the Bears in the Class 4-A boys basketball regional semifinal at Seymour. New Albany (18-6) avenged a regular-season loss to Central and advanced to meet Bloomington North (15-8) in the final.
Central’s last set in the final 18 seconds was designed for leading scorer Kourtlandt Martin to launch a potential game-winning trey. The Bulldogs smothered that, but Dedmond spotted an opening and drove to point-blank range under the basket.
McBirth, guarding one of the dangerous Central guards out front, covered the 18 feet and timed his leap perfectly as Dedmond attacked.
“It was kind of a chaos play,” McBirth said. “I just came over to help my teammates out.”
McBirth scored 19 points as New Albany marched on to its first regional final since 2008.
New Albany, which lost 47-44 at Central in February, led 41-32 early in the fourth quarter. The Bears (16-7) scrambled back with an 8-0 burst, then forced a 43-43 deadlock on Dedmond’s trey from the key with 2:55 left.
“Bang, bang, bang,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “They were back in it.”
Jeff Byrne answered the Central surge with a 3-pointer, his third and New Albany’s eighth trey. After two Rasheide Bell free throws at 1:36, New Albany elected to spread the floor and kill time. Dustin Cochran was fouled with 29 seconds left, and he made one free throw for the two-point lead. That set the stage for the game-ending drama.
“We were trying to shoot a three, rolling the dice,” Central coach Scott Hudson said. “He didn’t pull it, didn’t shoot it, so it was kind of a broken play and Beau took it to the board.”
McBirth denied it. “It was a great defensive play,” Shannon said. ” I thought he was going to score.”
New Albany had apparently taken control with a 20-4 run in the second quarter. Down 12-6, McBirth and freshman Isaac Hibbard sparked the burst with 3-pointers, and Jalen Reeves turned back-to-back steals into layups for a 20-14 New Albany lead. Another Byrne trey gave New Albany its biggest lead at 26-16.
“People look at the end of the game, but it was the middle that hurt,” Hudson said. “The bottom line was New Albany got too many second-chance shots. That was one of our biggest concerns. Those 50-50 balls were crucial.”
Byrne and Hibbard both hit three 3-pointers over Central’s zone. Byrne totaled 10 points while Hibbard finished with 9. Reeves added 6 points.
“Hibbard came in and does what Hibbard does,” Shannon said. “He’s got ice water in his veins. Jalen got us going, because we weren’t going.”
Martin had 14 points, Dedmond added 11 and Bell had 11 for the Bears.
Bloomington North 55, Franklin Central 50 – Grant Sims scored 19 points as North (15-8) beat the Flashes (13-11) for the second time this season. Tyler Truesdel and Saikou Jallow both had 12 points for the Cougars.
Lucas Huffman paced Franklin Central with 17 points.
North crushed New Albany 71-44 in the regular-season finale at North on Feb. 28.
4-A Regional at Seymour
– Beau Dedmond 11, Evan Milligan 9, Kourtlandt Martin 14, Rasheide Bell 11.Evansville Central (16-7)
– Jeff Byrne 10, Javen Reeves 6, Leondre McBirth 19, Dustin Cochran 3, Isaac Hibbard 9.New Albany (18-6)
– Dedmond 2, Bell 1, Byrne 3, McBirth 2, Hibbard 3.3-point goals
– Malik Laffoon 4, Jacob Treadway 1, Grant Sims 19, Saikou Jallow 12, Kaleb Ferrell 7, Tyler Truesdel 12.Bloomington North (15-8)
– D.J. Heinrichs 8, Lucas Huffman 17, Marcus Burk 6, Antoyne Jackson 11, Matt Anderson 8.Franklin Central (13-11)
– Sims 2, Truesdel 2, Heinrichs 1, Huffman 2, Burk 2, Anderson 1.3-point goals