With a sell-out crowd surrounding Joe Hinton Court roaring at full throat, with the No. 1 ranking in the balance, New Albany star Romeo Langford didn’t hear a thing.
The kid is cool. He’s under constant pressure, as the next big name, as the sophomore who could lead the Bulldogs to greatness, as the player everyone came to watch Friday night. He did not disappoint.
Langford hit two free throws with 5.4 seconds left, capping his 31-point night, and deflected a potentially game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer as the top-ranked Bulldogs fought off a gallant upset bid from rival Floyd Central, escaping with a 60-57 victory.
New Albany (3-0) extended its dominance of the series with its county and conference foe to 16 consecutive wins. This one was tougher than expected. The Bulldogs blasted to a 14-2 lead, had a double-digit advantage in the third quarter, then had to shake off the stubborn Highlanders as they scrambled within a single possession four times in the fourth.
Each time the Highlanders (3-1) threatened to complete a seismic upset, the Bulldogs had poise to respond. Isaac Hibbard, who had 16 points, had four huge free throws in the final 1:02. But until Langford converted his two at the line, and until he got a piece of Tyler Kimm’s 20-footer from the right wing, New Albany was dangling and ripe to be picked off.
“Langford was special, like he always is,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “He was the cream of the crop.”
GALLERY | New Albany holds off Floyd Central
New Albany is ranked as the best in Class 4-A, and during the opening minutes, it looked like it. Langford and Hibbard both buried treys and Langford wormed his way to a three-point play during an early burst that could have stunned the Highlanders. Nobody would have thought badly of them if they had gotten thumped after that start.
“It just took us a little too long,” Floyd coach Todd Sturgeon said. “It took us too long to get our sea legs. Once we did, we battled our butts off in the second half. We just hung in there. That’s what I’m most happy about. We kept battling and gave ourselves a chance.”
Floyd Central shot its way back, hitting six treys in the second half. The star of the comeback from a 43-32 deficit midway through the third quarter was freshman Cobie Barnes, a name to remember for the future. He scored 15 points and didn’t miss a shot. He started the fourth quarter with a bomb that cut the New Albany lead to 44-42, and he drilled another that made it 56-54 with 30 seconds left.
Another Floyd Central sophomore hit another big shot when Jake Canter swished a 3-pointer that trimmed the difference to 58-57.
“They showed some good character,” Shannon said. “They weren’t nervous later, and they stayed close to us. We felt like we could build a lead by pressuring them, but their guard play was pretty good.”
Luke Gohmann had 12 points, all on 3s, for the Highlanders, who also won the rebounding battles in the second half (by a 14-5 count). Langford finished with eight rebounds but didn’t have one after halftime. However, the Bulldogs also had only 7 turnovers.
“They have a team, if they weren’t a rivalry, I would love watching them play,” Sturgeon said. “I enjoyed the competition. Some teams there’s something about them you despise. We really want to beat them, but we have a tremendous amount of respect.”
New Albany could have cracked, but did not. The burden of the ranking has yet to weigh down the Bulldogs.
“We expected them to come out like that because this is a rivalry game,” Langford said. “We’ve handled it well so far.”
“It’s nice to be 3-0, No. 1 in the state, and we have a lot of room for improvement,” Shannon said. “A lot of room for improvement.”
Floyd Central’s sell-out crowd (estimated at over 3,000 in a gym that officially lists capacity at 2,500) was believed to be the first since 1989, when Damon Bailey and Bedford North Lawrence battled the Highlanders with Mr. Basketball Pat Graham.
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at email@example.com
New Albany (3-0): Romeo Langford 31, Michael Maxwell 6, Josh Jefferson 2, Isaac Hibbard 16, Rondale Moore 3, Adrian Pratt-Thomas 2
Floyd Central (3-1): Luke Gohmann 12, Garrett Mehling 5, Connor Sturgeon 4, Tyler Kimm 6, Jake Canter 7, Cobie Barnes 15, Trevor Apple 8
3-point goals: Langford 3, Hibbard 3, Gohmann 4, Canter 1, Barnes 3