The New Albany boys’ basketball team forced 17 turnovers, got a game-high 28 points from Leondre McBirth and held off Jennings County 55-49 Saturday night in the finals of the Class 4-A Seymour Sectional.
“That’s eight (sectional titles) out of 16,” said New Albany coach Jim Shannon. “We’ll take 50 percent in this tough sectional.
“It’s been pretty tough times the last couple of years for me,” Shannon said. “The school’s been great. It was nice to get this one. I don’t like to take more than two years off. Since we’ve been winning sectionals here, the most we’ve ever sat out is two years.”
The Bulldogs (17-6), who last won the sectional in 2011, will return for the Seymour Regional next Saturday and face Evansville Central (16-6), a 44-42 winner over Evansville Harrison.
New Albany lost at Evansville Central 47-44 on Feb. 15. “I don’t put a lot of stock into what happens in the regular season, win or lose,” Shannon said. The Bulldogs also lost to Jennings County in the regular season, 56-52 on Feb. 8.
Saturday’s game went back and forth until the fourth quarter, when McBirth started the scoring with a 3-pointer, giving New Albany a 39-33 cushion with 7:04 left.
In the next two minutes, freshman Isaac Hibbard drilled a couple of 3-pointers and the Bulldogs led 45-38 with 5:28 left.
Hibbard hit 4 of 5 shots and his only free throw for 12 points. He hit all three of his shots in the fourth quarter.
“They hit a shot and I thought I’d come down and hit one of my own,” he said. “It just went in and felt pretty good.”
“He also handled it (the ball) against pressure,” Shannon said of Hibbard. “I’m so proud of him. I thought he had ice water in his veins tonight.”
Hibbard said he wasn’t too nervous. “After I hit my first one, I was OK,” he said.
From there, Jennings County couldn’t get closer than 48-45 after the Bulldogs missed a couple of front-end bonus free throws.
“Coach (Shannon) just told us to keep our composure and we did,” said McBirth, who connected on five 3-pointers and scored New Albany’s first 13 points. “It feels great. I finally brought a title back to New Albany.”
Shannon said they wanted to protect a late lead.
“We’re not going to come down and chuck it. We’re going to protect it and go to the free-throw line,” Shannon said. “If you don’t make them, then you could be in trouble.”
New Albany, which went to a delay game with 3:30 left, hit 6 of 8 free throws in the last 1:14 to seal the win.
Davon Winburn, who hit a couple of 3-pointers, added 10 points for the Bulldogs.
Brad Hunt led the Panthers with 16 points. Tyler Vogel, a freshman who hit three from beyond the 3-point arc, added 13 points.