With the game on the line, New Albany went to the line.
Led by junior forward Jeff Byrne, the Bulldogs made it pay off by hitting 7 of 8 free throws over a 46-second span, turning a close game into a 67-56 Hoosier Hills Conference victory over rival Jeffersonville on Friday night in the Doghouse.
“We took a big step tonight in growing up,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said, pointing to his team’s poise in the final minutes.
The Red Devils, ranked No. 20 in Class 4-A, trailed the entire second half, but a New Albany turnover led to a 3-pointer by Drew Ellis that cut it to 54-50 with 1:40 left in the game. But that was as close as Jeff would get.
At the 1:32 mark, Dustin Cochran hit two free throws for a six-point lead. Moments later Leondre McBirth hit 1 of 2 to make it 57-50 with 54 seconds left.
Jeff had its chances late but couldn’t score. Byrne iced the game with a defensive rebound and was fouled by Myles Harvey, who also picked up a technical.
Byrne hit all four free throws to make it 61-50 with 46 seconds to play, and the Bulldogs had their first victory over the Devils since March 1, 2011, ending a three-game skid in the series.
“It’s a big game,” Shannon said. “It’s such an intense rivalry, and we were due.”
With the score tied at 17 early in the second quarter, the Red Devils went on a 6-2 run, capped by Myles Harvey’s baseline shot that made it 23-19. New Albany responded with a 10-0 surge highlighted by a steal and fast-break three-point play by Javen Reeves that put the Bulldogs up 24-23. Cochran’s 3-pointer and a basket by DeAnthony Warren capped the run to make it 29-23 with 2:10 remaining in the half.
Ellis came up big in the final two minutes, rattling in a 3-pointer and scoring on a driving layup to trim the New Albany edge to 29-28 at the break.
Jeff went cold in the third quarter, and the Bulldogs took advantage. Warren’s offensive rebound set up a 3-pointer by Cochran, capping a 13-4 run that gave New Albany a 42-32 cushion at the 1:18 mark. Jeff ended the quarter with Ellis’ 3-pointer, but the damage was done.
“We didn’t do our job on defense in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth,” first-year Jeff coach Matt Pait said. “We couldn’t stop them.”
Down 42-35 going into the fourth, Jeff got two baskets from Harvey, who returned from an injury to score 16 points before fouling out. The second of those buckets made it 44-39 with 6:45 left in the game.
McBirth responded with a basket and two free throws to offset a three-point play by Harvey, giving the Bulldogs a 50-42 advantage at the 5:16 mark. With four minutes remaining, Warren took over. His basket and two free throws made it 54-45 at 3:31.
“I thought DeAnthony Warren was phenomenal off the bench,” Shannon said.
Harvey’s two free throws, followed by Ellis’ 3-pointer, cut it to 54-50, but the Red Devils went cold after that.
McBirth had 19 points, Cochran 15 and Reeves 12 to lead New Albany (6-2, 4-0 HHC).
Jeff (6-4, 2-1), which has lost three in a row, was paced by Ellis with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and Keenan Williams with 11.
“We’ve got to get the ship going in the right direction,” Pait said.