The Jeffersonville High School boys’ basketball team finally made some friends in New Albany on Wednesday night.
The Red Devils, playing one of their most complete games all season, surprised visiting Columbus East 74-68, helping New Albany clinch the Hoosier Hills Conference title.
First-year Jeff coach Matt Pait said it’s great to see his team coming together after a season of ups and downs.
“Finally,” he said. “I could’ve written a book about this season with all that has happened. But I have tremendous praise for these seniors, for what they’ve given this school and this program. I think highly of these guys because they’ve shown so much character at the end of the season.
“I’m really happy for my team. They’re coming together at the right time.”
Now the Red Devils (12-10, 3-4 HHC) head into the sectional with confidence after winning four of their last five games.
“We knew we were getting better,” Pait said. “Finally, here at the end, we’re winning some games.”
Jeff came out firing and scored 23 points in the first quarter. The Red Devils built a 13-point margin late in the second quarter and led 36-25 at halftime.
It was 60-45 late in the third quarter before the Olympians (15-4, 5-2) finally made their charge. Bryce Lienhoop, who scored 18 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, hit a layup with 2:10 left, and East trailed just 68-66.
But the visitors hit just 1 of 7 shots the rest of the way.
“It was a game we wouldn’t have won three weeks ago,” Pait said. “We had to fight through it at the end. They’re a really good team.”
Two seniors playing their last game in Johnson Arena paced the Red Devils. Drew Ellis scored 26 points and Keenan Williams 24. Dionte Allen added 12 points, sinking 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute.
“I remember my last game here,” Pait said of his own playing career with the Red Devils. “I remember it to this day, and I know these guys will, too.
“Keenan really did a good job of taking the ball to the rim and getting good shots. We’ve talked to Drew and Keenan about their shot selection. When those guys take good shots, they make a lot.”
“To know this is the last game I’ll play here, and to go out like this, it’s really humbling,” Williams said. “It’s surreal to me. It really hasn’t hit me. I guess it will later on.
“It gives us a lot of confidence. This team is really coming together.”