NEW CASTLE, Ind. – New Albany kicked off its stint in the Hall of Fame Classic Friday afternoon with a commanding defensive performance.
The fourth-ranked Bulldogs (6-2), despite a lowly 14-for-39 shooting clip, held No. 16 Warsaw to 27-percent shooting and forced 12 turnovers en route to a 43-33 win over the Tigers (6-3). Warsaw entered Friday’s matchup averaging 51.8 points per game on 49-percent shooting.
Junior guard Romeo Langford was limited to 14 points and eight rebounds on 5 of 16 shooting, but junior guard Sean East and senior wing Isaac Hibbard picked up the slack. East had 14 and five assists, while Hibbard chipped in nine and four helpers. Freshman big man Julien Hunter added the other six points for New Albany.
“I thought, defensively, we played them about as well as you can play them,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “They’re going to grind you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s difficult to play against when they grind you like that. It upsets the flow when our guys want to play fast. I thought they did a great job. If we can make some shots, it certainly might help. … That’s been our Achilles heel this year. We’re just not pumping shots like we did last year.”
New Albany advances to Friday’s night championship game against No. 3 Logansport (8-0), led by a familiar face. Shannon grew up with Berries coach Pat Skaggs, and both played under hall of fame coach Norm Held at Anderson High School. Friday night’s game will mark the first head-to-head meeting between the childhood friends.
“I could jog to his house in a couple minutes,” Shannon said, “walk there in five. Just down the street, over a little bit. Same neighborhood, so yeah, we go way back. … I’m not particularly fond of (playing against him). We’re going to try to go out there and beat him, and he’s going to try to beat us, but not a great situation to play against someone you care about.”
Warsaw slowed the tempo early and often Friday afternoon, as both teams combined for just three baskets midway through the first quarter. A bucket by Warsaw’s Kyle Mangas gave the Tigers their first lead at 6-4 with 2:41 left in the opening period, but Langford’s first points on a 3-point play regained it for the Bulldogs on the ensuing possession. A Hibbard 3-pointer made it 12-8 before Warsaw answered with a bucket as the first-quarter buzzer sounded.
Cold shooting for both teams carried over to the second. Langford’s steal and tomahawk dunk opened scoring before the Tigers answered with three on its next two possessions. New Albany led 16-15 with 4:10 showing, and the Bulldogs extended their advantage by way of a Langford 3-pointer and alley-oop slam from East. New Albany entered the halftime break up 23-17 despite shooting 9-for-28 – including a 2-for-14 3-point clip – in the first half. Warsaw shot 5 of 16 in the first two quarters.
New Albany turned in a strong third quarter behind East, its floor general. Warsaw cuts its deficit to 23-20 with 5:21 left in the period before East answered with a 3-pointer. A steal and outlet pass from the junior guard created an eight-point cushion, and another 3-pointer from East gave the Bulldogs a 31-20 lead. A block by sophomore guard Derrick Stevenson then led to a Langford hoop en route to the 35-23 score entering the fourth.
“I thought he had a masterful game,” Shannon said of East. “He stepped up, made his 3s, drove it in there. … That’s really what we need out of him – to be aggressive.
“Derrick played really good defense, so we’re going to have to start looking at him a little bit more, obviously. He played really well, and I thought Julien Hunter played great.”
Warsaw inched within 37-31 with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter, and an Asher Blum basket cut it to 38-33 with 1:32 remaining, but East and Hibbard hit 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch to seal the 43-33 final.
The 2016 Hall of Fame Classic is the 40th edition of the boys tournament and the 28th played at New Castle Fieldhouse – the world’s largest high school gymnasium. New Albany’s stint marks its fourth appearance in the Hall of Fame Classic, which includes a tournament title in 2007. Historically, 13 teams have went on to win a state championship after participating in the tournament, and four have earned state runner-up honors.
New Albany 43, Warsaw 33
Bulldogs (6-2): Romeo Langford 14p, 8r; Sean East 14p, 5a; Isaac Hibbard 9p, 4; Julien Hunter 6p, 6r
Tigers (6-3): Kyle Mangas 13p; Jeremy David 4p, 7r; Asher Blum 9p; Ross Johnson 5p; Jaceb Burish 2p