SEYMOUR, Ind. — No. 1 New Albany survived its first serious challenge in postseason play.
After watching a 13-point lead disappear in the third quarter, the top-ranked Bulldogs (24-1) held on and then took control in overtime for a 73-66 win over No. 10 Bloomington South (21-5) in the semifinals of the Class 4-A Seymour Regional. Bulldogs star guard Romeo Langford scored 34 points and went 17 of 20 from the free throw line in the victory.
“That was definitely a challenge,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said, whose team opened the season with a 72-68 win at South. “We’re blessed and thankful that we’re moving on. That’s all you can do, just advance.”
GALLERY: New Albany vs. Bloomington South
Shannon said his young team pushed the panic bottom in the third quarter, something certainly rare for the Bulldogs. New Albany led 33-20 early in the third quarter, but South went on a 16-3 run to tie the game at 36-36. From there, it stayed tight.
“I thought we really controlled the game until the third quarter, when a couple of calls didn’t go our way,” Shannon said. “One of our kids lost his mind and suddenly its a game.”
Bulldogs senior guard Josh Jefferson fouled South’s Chance Coyle with 6:04 left in the fourth quarter. Jefferson didn’t agree with the call and got collared with a technical, his fifth foul of the game. With 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, South’s Tucker Blackwell hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 55-55. Langford had a chance to win the game in regulation but missed a contested jumper with just a second to go.
In overtime, the Panthers’ strategy turned to fouling the Bulldogs once they surged ahead to take a 65-59 lead. New Albany hit 16 of 20 free throws in overtime, and went 37 of 49 from the charity stripe for the game. Langford gave the Bulldogs their lead in overtime by converting a pair of free throws.
“We got off to a good start in overtime,” Shannon said. “The kids hung and made some big plays. You can’t knock their game plan because they were in it, but I’ll take 49 free throws any day.
“This is a tournament and we’re still young. We’re gaining experience as we go. The kids who have to taken a deep breath and go out there and get it done — they’re young.”
Jefferson added 11 points for the Bulldogs and Rondale Moore, another sophomore, added nine points.
The Panthers were led in scoring by Blackwell, who scored 32 points in the defeat.
“Blackwell — he is a special player,” Shannon said. “We started to run two players at him. He was that good today. He was making some tough shots. He’s probably the best player we’ve played.”
The Bulldogs (24-1) will take a 21-game winning streak into tonight’s regional title game against the Evansville Reitz (22-4). New Albany beat Reitz, 72-63 on Dec. 30.
Evansville Reitz 81, Franklin Central 80: Down by as many as 25 points in the third quarter, the Panthers (22-4) came roaring back and rallied past the Flashes (18-7).
Franklin Central’s Marcus Burk, who led the Flashes with eight 3-pointers and 36 points, missed a shot at the buzzer to win the game.
Blake Ruckman led Reitz with 29 points and Evansville signee Dru Smith added 18 points.
Class 4-A Seymour Regional Semifinals
New Albany (24-1) – Langford 34, Pratt-Thomas 4, East 2, Moore 9, Hibbard 8, Maxwell 5, Jefferson 11.
Bloomington South (21-5) – Chasteen 1, King 9, Blackwell 32, Loyd 6, Hall 8, Coyle 10.
3-point goals: Langford, Hibbard 2, Jefferson 3, Blackwell 5.
Reitz (22-4) – I.Dunham 7, Ruckman 29, Smith 18, E.Dunham 7, Springer 3, McHugh 15, Blackwell 2.
Franklin Central (18-7) – Hardimon 2, Weinke 18, Pedigo 10, Kocken 4, Jackson 7, Cerbone 3, Burk 36.
3-point goals: Ruckman 4, Smith, Springer, Weinke 3, Cerbone, Burk 8.