SEYMOUR, Ind. – Defending Class 4A state champion New Albany has had a target on its back all season, and Saturday’s regional semifinal proved no different.
It took a second-half run to lift the top-ranked Bulldogs (25-3) to a 57-52 win over upset-minded Center Grove (17-8) at Seymour’s Scott Gymnasium in the regional opener Saturday morning. The Trojans tied the game late in the third quarter, but New Albany finished the period on a 13-5 run and went 5-for-5 from the field in the fourth quarter en route to victory.
The Bulldogs will meet No. 8 Castle (23-3) in the regional championship at 8 p.m. Saturday night. It’s New Albany’s second straight regional final appearance and the team’s third in four seasons. The Bulldogs have won 17 regional titles all-time. New Albany’s regional crown a season ago was its first since 2008.
Coach Jim Shannon, who has won two regionals in his 19 years with the Bulldogs, said New Albany can’t afford to let up at the stage.
“It’s going to be the same from here on out,” Shannon said. “ … We know we’re going to get everyone’s best shot, but everybody that’s in this thing from here on out can win the state championship. Everybody is deserving of where they’re at. They can say we’re the favorites, but the reality of the situation is: There are good teams across the state. We just saw one of them.”
Saturday’s early-morning win also extended the Bulldogs’ postseason win streak to 10 games, good for second in the state. New Albany is now 11-0 inside Seymour’s Scott Gymnasium the past three seasons dating back to Romeo Langford’s freshman year.
The five-star guard led the way in the Bulldogs’ semifinal win with 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Sean East added nine for New Albany, and Isaac Hibbard had eight. The Trojans were paced by Travis Roehling’s 18 points and a 16-point, nine-rebound effort from Trayce Jackson-Davis, who played with four fouls the entire fourth quarter.
“(Jackson-Davis) was a load for us to handle,” Shannon said. “At times we did terrible, and other times we did good. (Langford) got him in foul trouble, taking it at him. That was crucial. Getting him out of the game was crucial for us to win.”
Center Grove led 6-2 early, but a Derrick Stevenson 3-point play off an assist from Langford with 4:03 left in the first quarter lifted the Bulldogs to a one-point advantage, their first. A Blake Murphy 3-pointer extended the New Albany lead to 13-8 with 1:19 showing, and two Julien Hunter free throws put the Bulldogs up 15-8 entering the second quarter.
New Albany went 2-for-6 to begin the second frame as the Trojans surged within 19-15 with 3:59 remaining until halftime. Langford responded with a 3-point play – his only points of the second quarter – but a layup from Roehling later inched the Trojans to within two. A Langford steal and assist to East in transition made for a 24-20 halftime advantage.
Roehling knotted the score at 26 with 6:25 left in the third period, and after East connected on his only 3-pointer of the game on the Bulldogs’ ensuing possession, the Trojans tied it yet again. But New Albany would have the last laugh. A 13-5 run, capped by a Stevenson 3-pointer at the buzzer from East, lifted the Bulldogs to a 42-34 lead entering the fourth.
A Langford dunk in transition upped New Albany’s advantage to 10 to begin the fourth, and despite another late run by the Trojans, the Bulldogs persevered. Hibbard’s 3-point play gave New Albany 52-42 lead with 2:15 left. Langford tallied eight of his 21 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the final period. The Bulldogs made 5 of 7 free throws.
“I knew I needed to get the ball,” Langford said. “ … Throughout the game, I knew (an emphasis) was to attack (Jackson-Davis) and get him in foul trouble, which I did. … I feel like I had to work for my points, especially today in the lane. I didn’t get easy buckets.”
New Albany now advances to Saturday’s night’s final versus the Knights, who topped Bloomington South (22-5) 72-62 in the other semifinal. The Bulldogs are 9-0 versus common opponents this season, and Castle is 10-1, with the lone loss coming to Floyd Central. Jack Nunge leads the Knights at 22 points per game.
Class 4A Seymour Regional semifinal
New Albany 57, Center Grove 52
Bulldogs (25-3): Romeo Langford 21p, 8r, 3a; Sean East 9p, 4a; Isaac Hibbard 8p; Blake Murphy 7p, 5r; Julien Hunter 6p, 4r; Derrick Stevenson 6p
Trojans (17-8): Trayce Jackson-Davis 16p, 8r; Travis Roehling 18p, 3r, 3a; Joey Klaasen 9p, 4r; Nate McLain 9p