New Albany-Bedford North Lawrence sectional rematch a whole new game

The regular-season results, the Sagarin computer ratings and the eye tests all conclude the same thing: New Albany and Jennings County are destined for the Class 4-A sectional boys’ basketball final at Seymour.

Look again, New Albany coach Jim Shannon countered. All that “evidence” is meaningless. The only proof will be uncovered during Friday’s semifinals. New Albany (15-6) will face Bedford North Lawrence (12-10) at 6 p.m., followed by the rematch between Jennings County (14-9) and Seymour (3-16).

The final depends on BNL’s fate. If the Stars win, it will be shifted to 7:30 p.m. Monday because of BNL’s involvement in the girls’ state final at Terre Haute. If New Albany prevails, the final is set for 7:30 Saturday.

The Bulldogs, the Hoosier Hills Conference champions, already own a 68-47 home triumph over the Stars on Feb. 21. Leondre McBirth scored 24 points and DeAnthony Warren totaled a career-high 20 to lead the way.

“I don’t think that game means anything,” Shannon said. “We’ll come out like we’re 1-0 in the tournament and they’re 0-0. Just come out and play.”

BNL, chasing its first sectional title since 2001, is locked into its seventh straight semifinal, a result of receiving a bye in the IHSAA tournament draw seven straight years.

The Stars can’t dismiss the earlier result so quickly — unless they fix the faults that led to that outcome. McBirth and Warren combined to hit 19 of 25 shots, New Albany shot 57 percent overall after a 4-for-16 start, and the Bulldogs chewed up the Stars on the boards 27-13. BNL, playing its patient, methodical style to perfection, rolled to a 15-9 lead after one quarter, but the Bulldogs broke free from those chains with a 20-3 run.

“We have to rebound better and handle their pressure,” BNL coach Jamie Hudson said. “We have to do a better job on McBirth …” He broke off that sentence with a “Huh,” realizing how easy that is to say aloud and how difficult it will be to put into practice. “He really hurt us when he got hot. We have our hands full.”

New Albany advanced to the semifinal with a 57-43 victory over Floyd Central on Tuesday. The Bulldogs exploded to a 25-2 lead, and the Highlanders never recovered. McBirth had 15 points while Jeff Byrne hit three early 3-pointers and totaled 13 points.

“Dre was the key,” Shannon said. “He was the best player on the floor.”

BNL has its own momentum after winning three games last week, the biggest an overtime triumph at Class 3-A power Corydon.

“I really like how we finished up the season,” Hudson said. “It was a big confidence boost. We know we’re better than how we played down there, but they had a lot to do with that. They have so many weapons, it’s really hard. But we’ll be up for the challenge.”

Blaze Byrer had 12 points and Morgan Cummings 11 in the first meeting with New Albany. Byrer is BNL’s only double-digit scorer at 16.8 points per game, while Cummings (9.5) and sophomore Braxton Day (9.5) are close.

Can the Stars reverse a 21-point decision?

“We’ll see,” Shannon said. “I like my team.” Then he modified that remark. “Some nights. We’ve got a long 72 hours before we play again. You never know what will happen.”

Jennings County advanced with an 85-75 overtime victory over Jeffersonville in which Brad Hunt had 20 points and freshman Tyler Vogel added 19 points and 12 rebounds. The Panthers stopped Seymour 68-57 on Dec. 21 as Richard McNamee scored 19 points and Johnny Scruggs 16.

The sectional champion will return to Seymour for the regional on March 15 and face the Evansville North Sectional winner in the first game.

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