RICHMOND — New Albany basketball coach Jim Shannon took a seat at a table in front of the media after Saturday’s Class 4A semistate game. Before he took a question, he put his hand on the shoulder of the sophomore seated to his left.
“Special kid, man,” Shannon said to him. “You are so, so special.”
Romeo Langford is the kid. The Kid. The Man. Whatever. Langford, New Albany’s 6-4 super sophomore, put on a show at the Tiernan Center on Saturday afternoon that will go down as one of the all-time tournament performances in top-ranked New Albany’s 82-64 win over No. 9 Southport.
Langford scored 46 points to break the school record, including 43 in the first three quarters. He was 8-for-12 from the 3-point line and 15-for-24 overall from the field. He was 8-for-10 from the free-throw line and grabbed nine rebounds.
The numbers, though, are just numbers. The crowd, which nearly filled the 8,100-capacity Tiernan Center and included Louisville coach Rick Pitino, was buzzing when Langford fired in a 3-pointer from 22 feet in the opening seconds. And again when he swooped in for a rebound, scored and was fouled. And again when he pulled up in transition and buried a 15-foot jumper. And again. And again.
Southport fans asked at halftime, after Langford had scored 25 points to stake New Albany to a 42-32 lead: “He can’t keep shooting like that, can he?”
Langford’s answer was a resounding “Yes.” He buried back-to-back 3-pointers to start the second half to push the lead back to 16. He scored 18 points in the third quarter alone.
“He’ll do something crazy and you’ll think, ‘It’s just another day for Romeo,’ ” Shannon said. “But I thought he went up another rung again today. I think the competition brought it out of him.”
Langford did it all with the same emotionless expression, a big part of his appeal to New Albany’s rabid fans. He never seems bothered by any amount of physical play. He just keeps playing.
“Once in a lifetime a kid like this comes along,” Shannon said. “He’ll be mentioned with the greatest names out there by the time he leaves.”
New Albany will look to win its first state title since 1973 – and second in program history – when it meets either McCutcheon or Warsaw next week at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
There appeared little Southport (22-7) could do, other than tip its cap to Langford after the game. The Cardinals, playing in their first semistate since 1990, got as close as 64-52 with 6:34 left. But the offense dried up for the next 3 minutes and New Albany pushed its lead back to 20.
Southport coach Kyle Simpson was asked if his team could have done anything different to slow down Langford.
“Obviously you’re going to second-guess yourself and analyze the tape,” Simpson said. “He’s a tremendous player and he had a great day. Better than a great day. He had an outstanding day. We pushed him farther out and he hit deeper 3s. It happens. He got in the zone.”
It seems to happen often for Langford, who came in averaging 29.7 points as a sophomore and now has 1,275 career points. Earlier this season, he had a stretch of eight consecutive games with more than 30 points. That mark broke a Hoosier Hills Conference record previously shared by Damon Bailey and Pat Graham, who had five.
But Saturday was something else entirely, considering the stage and the stakes. Teammate Isaac Hibbard said it was his best performance.
“When he pulled up from the ‘R’ on the first shot of the game, I knew he’d be on,” Hibbard said. “I knew (Southport) was going to have a problem.”
Though his expression never showed it, Langford said he was a bit more juiced than usual.
“I knew it was going to be a packed house,” he said. “I knew I had to bring my ‘A’ game. I knew I had to be on and the results were wonderful. Southport has two Division I players and that made me step up my game even more.”
Joey Brunk, Southport’s 6-10 senior and Butler recruit, finished with a team-high 22 points. Junior Paul Scruggs added 19 points. Brunk said after the game that he’d like to see Langford playing with him at Hinkle Fieldhouse in the future.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Brunk said. “My hat’s off to him for how he played. I won’t be mad if he comes to Butler. I’ll start working on that now as my next project.”
Good luck. But college is still off in the distant future for Langford. He’s still a sophomore, as crazy as that may seem to those who watched him Saturday.
“I’m telling you,” Shannon said. “He’s one in a million. You won’t see the likes of him for a while.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.