BEDFORD, Ind. – New Albany clinched a share of its fourth consecutive Hoosier Hills Conference title in comfortable fashion Friday night.
Class 4-A’s third-ranked Bulldogs (19-3, 6-1) handled host Bedford North Lawrence (8-15, 4-3) 67-55 behind 36 points from star Romeo Langford and a 23-6 third-quarter edge. After entering halftime with a five-point lead, the Bulldogs began the third on a 16-2 run and went 9 of 11 from the field to open up a sizeable lead.
The victory gives New Albany at least a share of its seventh league crown in the past 10 years and the Bulldogs’ 19th overall, good for tops in the conference. Jim Shannon’s bunch has won 11 HHC titles since 2001.
New Albany has won its past 13 conference championships outright, but a Floyd Central win Wednesday at Columbus East would mark the Bulldogs’ first shared crown since 1990. The Highlanders (17-3, 5-1) have won 13 straight and are 4-1 versus Sectional 15 opponents this season, with the lone loss coming to the Bulldogs, who are 4-0 against sectional foes.
“I don’t really like sharing things,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “We’ve been kind of selfish. We dug ourselves in a hole with that loss at Columbus East. That’s the way it goes, but at least we won it.”
Langford hit his average for the first time since returning from a dislocated right pinky finger. His 36 points came on 12-for-22 shooting, which included a 3-for-3 clip and 4 of 4 free throws in the fourth quarter. The junior added 11 rebounds. Junior Sean East chipped in 13 for the Bulldogs – 10 in the third quarter on 4-for-4 shooting – and freshman post Julien Hunter had seven points and 11 rebounds.
“Julien is doing so well for a freshman,” Shannon said. “ … It’s not easy to play varsity basketball as a freshman, it’s really not, (and) Romeo is Romeo. He’s getting it back, slowly but surely. When he starts knocking (his 3-pointers down again), watch out.”
Langford scored the game’s first four points before BNL sophomore Jathan Ritter responded with a 3-pointer. A bucket from senior Isaac Hibbard midway through the first quarter extended the Bulldogs’ slim lead, but it proved to be the only first-quarter points not scored by Langford. Thus, the Stars knotted the score with 3:12 showing and managed to stay within two of the Bulldogs at 13-11 entering the second quarter.
New Albany’s star netted 11 first-quarter points on 4-for-7 shooting, but the rest of the Bulldogs went 1-for-5 to go along with the team’s four turnovers.
The Bulldogs opened up a bit of a cushion in the second quarter by way of a 3-pointer from East early. Back-to-back offensive rebounds and second-chance baskets by Hunter later extended the New Albany lead to 22-16 with four minutes until halftime.
After some back-and-forth play to conclude the first half, the Bulldogs led 29-24 on a pair of free throws from Langford. The five-star guard tallied 17 first-half points. Hunter recorded 10 rebounds through two quarters. New Albany, though, went 10 of 27 in the first half before righting the ship in the third.
“We were sluggish in the first half,” Shannon said. “We’ve had an interesting time getting these kids to understand you’ve got to bring it every single night in preparation for the tournament. It doesn’t matter who you play. It doesn’t matter what their record is. … We came out in the third quarter and looked like the better team.”
Three consecutive New Albany baskets made for a 35-24 lead less than a minute into the third quarter, and the Bulldogs scored five more unanswered points before BNL freshman Brayton Bailey, the son of Damon, snapped the run. A Langford 3-pointer capped the 16-2 spurt midway through the period, and New Albany cruised to a 52-30 lead heading into the final quarter.
Despite the deficit, BNL stayed with it. The Stars opened the fourth on an 8-2 run, but the Bulldogs did just enough to seal it late. New Albany went 4-for-6 from the floor but gave up 25 fourth-quarter points en route to the final.
“We get that everywhere we go,” Shannon said. “I don’t know why our kids aren’t used to it. It’s not going to change. … I’m trying to get them to understand that – we won it all last year, but these games are important. We talked about that at halftime. Play with a little spirit, a little emotion.”
The New Albany win Friday – the seventh straight over the Stars – wrapped up its regular-season road schedule. The Bulldogs return home Saturday versus Indianapolis Manual (14-5) at 7:30 p.m. before their season finale against Bloomington North (12-6) next Friday. BNL welcomes Corydon (7-13) next Friday.
New Albany 67, Bedford North Lawrence 55
Bulldogs (19-3, 6-1 Hoosier Hills): Romeo Langford 36p, 11r; Sean East 13p, 3a; Isaac Hibbard 9p, 4r; Julien Hunter 7p, 11r; Derrick Stevenson 3r; Blake Murphy 2p; Savion Southers 1r
Stars (8-15, 4-3 Hoosier Hills): Brayton Bailey 10p, 8r, 3a; Alex McCutcheon 4p; McCall Ray 16p, 5r; Isaiah Stockman 8p, 2r; Jathan Ritter 6p; Gaven Moore 7p, 4r; Drew Shoulfer 4p