No. 1 Bulldogs down No. 6 Bloomington South behind 24 from Romeo Langford
New Albany basketball backed up its preseason No. 1 ranking in convincing fashion Saturday night by way of a 61-38 win over No. 6 Bloomington South before a capacity crowd.
The Bulldogs (1-0) got off to a slow start offensively but used a strong defensive showing and a 21-4 second-half run to open up a sizeable lead late. New Albany held the visiting Panthers to 35-percent shooting all the while netting 49 percent of its attempts.
Junior guard Romeo Langford led the way with 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and two blocks. Senior guard Isaac Hibbard added 10 points, and freshman post Julien Hunter tallied eight points, eight rebounds and a team-high three blocks in his debut.
New Albany “sputtered” on offense early, according to coach Jim Shannon, but the Bulldogs’ rim protection and a tweak on the defensive end – a move to 1-3-1 zone – ultimately made the difference in the second half.
“We’re better defending at the rim than we were last year,” Shannon said. “They got away from us and got to the rim, (but) we had quite a few blocks. Between Romeo and Julien, I know we blocked a lot. … Our offense sputtered a little bit. Shots just weren’t falling the first half. Tempo wasn’t going our way, that’s for sure. We had a hard time speeding it up because we weren’t scoring.
“We have to play that way, when we’re running, kicking, shooting 3s, driving and dunking.”
New Albany shot just 2-for-11 in the first quarter but held Bloomington South to 3-of-12 from the floor and led 8-6 after one. Langford started 0-of-3 from the field for two points in the opening period but came alive in the second.
An alley-oop from junior guard Kobe Stanton to Langford, followed by an offensive rebound and put-back dunk by the 5-star prospect two possessions later ignited the packed crowd. He went 4-of-6 for nine points in the second to give the Bulldogs a 25-18 lead at the break.
“I just let the game come to me,” Langford said. “I know I didn’t start too good, but it was the first game of the season.
“For our first time actually play, I felt like we did pretty good.”
After a quick bucket out of the first-half break for Bloomington South, New Albany closed the curtains for good.
A vicious right-handed dunk in transition from Langford preceded a Hibbard basket that extended New Albany’s lead to 36-20 in the third, capping an 11-0 run. The Panthers answered, but the Bulldogs responded again with a 10-2 run to make it 46-24 early in the fourth. It was smooth sailing from that point on.
Shannon labeled the team’s defensive performance as “not bad,” and “not anything perfect,” all things considered. The Bulldogs are still relatively new to the 1-3-1 defense, per the 19th-year coach, which means it’s back to the drawing board for New Albany despite the win.
“We have plenty to work on this week,” Shannon said, “and that’s really good news, when you can win by 20 or so and think, ‘Well, it was just so-so.’”
Members of New Albany’s 2015-16 Class 4A state-title team were honored with their championship rings prior to Saturday’s season opener.
“We feel like (Saturday’s win is) a stepping stone,” Hunter said. “We want to be state champions again – especially me, because I wasn’t on the team last year. Them getting their rings, I want to get one myself.”
Bloomington South: 6 – 12 – 6 – 14 – 38
New Albany: 8 – 17 – 17 – 19 – 61
Bulldogs (1-0): Langford 24, Hibbard 10, Hunter 8, Short 7, Southers 6, East 3, Martin 3
Panthers (1-1): Hall 12, King 7, C. Bomba 6, Leal 5, N. Jager 4, T. Bomba 2, Coyle 2