New Albany’s Javen Reeves spotted open floor space to the rim and took off, accelerating and soaring. A few feet away, his coach was praying.
Slams, with the game in the balance, by excited high school basketball players are never a given. Reeves elevated and did not miss, smashing it down with two hands, and his breakaway flush was the difference as New Albany dunked host Silver Creek 49-46 on Friday night.
Leondre McBirth scored 20 points, and clutch baskets by Dustin Cochran (a trey for the lead) and Reeves (the slam for the finishing touch) powered New Albany (9-2) to a grinding, gritty victory. The Dragons (6-4) were in position to slay their dragon nemesis for the first time since 1998, but a tough turnover and New Albany’s penchant for pulling out fire-scorched wins proved difficult to conquer.
Silver Creek owned a 46-44 lead following two Jake Steele free throws with 4:04 left. The Dragons did not score again.
Cochran erased the lead with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Following a Silver Creek miss, the Bulldogs spread the offense and held on, but a turnover with 46.5 seconds left gave the Dragons an opening. Gabe Bauer crashed through the paint, drawing contact, but was called for a turnover with 23.7 seconds left.
That set up the Reeves slam. With Silver Creek in total denial of the inbound pass, Reeves broke open behind the defense, gathered the looping pass and streaked to the basket. New Albany coach Jim Shannon closed his eyes.
“That was big,” Shannon said. “I was just praying he didn’t miss it.”
Silver Creek launched two 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds, missing both.
“They always make the play,” Silver Creek coach Brandon Hoffman said. “They win the close games. They know how to close games, and we haven’t been able to do that. Whether it’s missing opportunities or turnovers, we have to get over that hump.”
McBirth got New Albany started, scoring 14 first-half points. But Bauer matched that with his own 12-point burst, and Christian Reed had girth that McBirth and the rest of the Bulldogs lack. Reed, a 6-foot-6 post player, went to work in the lane and scored 17 points, exposing New Albany’s soft underside.
“Reed played outstanding,” Shannon said. “We made him look like an All-American, but we don’t have a post presence. It really showed.”
Silver Creek had New Albany breaking a sweat, holding a five-point lead (31-26) in the second half. The Bulldogs responded with a 7-0 spurt, and the lead changed hands seven times (with three ties) from that point.
“Silver Creek has a really nice team,” Shannon said. “We’re not good enough to blow anybody out.”
But the Bulldogs were good enough to pull it out as Davon Winburn (nine points), DeAnthony Warren (eight) and Cochran (eight) played complimentary roles.
Bauer finished with 17 points for Silver Creek, which had been idle since a Jan. 11 home loss to Borden. The Dragons have now lost three games by single digits to ranked teams (Class 2-A No. 2 Clarksville, Class A No. 2 Borden and 4-A No. 15 New Albany).
“I thought we executed our game plan really well, I really did,” Hoffman said. “It just came down to a couple of plays at the end.”