BY RYAN INGRAM
NEW ALBANY —
Dre McBirth led all scorers with 30 points and led his team to a comeback victory over the Columbus East Olympians 55-51 on Saturday night at The Doghouse to remain undefeated in Hoosier Hills Conference play.
McBirth knocked down five 3-pointers for the Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0 HHC), including four in the third quarter. He scored 23 points in the second half.
Javen Reeves added 11 points as the only other New Albany player to score in double figures. Dustin Cochran had seven points, Isaac Hibbard added three, and DeAnthony Warren and Nick White each had two for the Bulldogs.
New Albany jumped out to an early lead, forcing six turnovers in the first quarter. McBirth’s first triple put the Bulldogs up 11-2.
Columbus East (4-1, 2-1) answered with an 8-0 run, spurred by back-to-back 3’s by Connor Umphress. The two teams traded baskets, and Umphress sank his third trey of the quarter to tie the game at 15. Reeves put in a runner from the right side to give the Bulldogs a 17-15 lead at the first break.
Umphress found the Olympians’ Bryce Lienhoop open under the basket to start the second quarter and tie the game at 17. After a missed 3 on the ensuing possession, Lienhoop appeared to lose the ball in a trap near midcourt. But he recovered, drove down the lane, put in the basket to give East its first lead and drew a foul. He sank the free throw to give the Olympians a 20-17 lead.
Following a Bulldog turnover, East’s Nate Nolting sank a 3 from the left wing. On East’s next possession, Nolting found open space behind the 3-point arc again and sank his second straight triple. The Olympians’ 11-0 run gave them a nine-point lead.
Out of a Bulldogs timeout, McBirth found a curling Reeves on the right block to stop the run. East answered with another 3, this time from Josh Smith. The Olympians had the first double-digit lead of the game at 29-19.
Threes from Cochran and Hibbard kept New Albany in it, but at the half the Bulldogs were still down 34-27.
“We played some junk defense against them. We thought a triangle-and-two might work, and it didn’t. We left too many guys open and their kids hit it,” Bulldogs coach Jim Shannon said of the first half. “We couldn’t handle Umphress and Lienhoop both. If they just had one, we might have been OK but having to handle two of them was really a task. Their other kids stepped up and made shots. So, we scratched that and started playing our regular defense, and I think for the most part that’s what won us the game.”
The halftime adjustments paired with the stellar second-half play of McBirth turned things around for the Bulldogs. After East pushed the lead back to 10 early in the third quarter, McBirth drained a 3 from the left wing and another from the right side on back-to-back possessions to narrow the lead to four at 37-33.
The teams traded field goals until McBirth found himself open behind the arc on the right baseline to cut the lead to one at 41-40. Lienhoop put in a layup from the baseline and drew a foul on the Olympians’ next trip down the floor, but was unable to connect from the free-throw line.
With New Albany trailing 43-40, McBirth dribbled into a rhythm 3 just right of the key to tie the game at 43. The Bulldogs never trailed again.
“He was unbelievable offensively,” Shannon said.
Off of an East turnover, McBirth drove the lane and drew a foul, making one of two to give New Albany the lead. Reeves forced another turnover by the Olympians on their next possession and found a streaking McBirth for an easy layup and a 46-43 lead. The Bulldogs took that lead into the fourth quarter, as they led 48-45.
New Albany slowed the pace down in the last period. It was nearly three minutes before either team collected a basket in the quarter.
East got within two at 50-48 and 53-51, but the Bulldogs were able to hit enough free throws down the stretch to hang on and come out on top by four points.
New Albany will host Evansville Reitz on Friday.
NEW ALBANY 55, COLUMBUS EAST 51
Columbus East 15 19 11 6—51
New Albany 17 10 21 7—55
Columbus East (4-1, 2-1 HHC): Bryce Lienhoop 19, Connor Umphress 14, Nate Nolting 10, Josh Smith 3, Parker Chitty 3, Peyton Gray 2.
New Albany (4-1, 3-0): Dre McBirth 30, Javen Reeves 11, Dustin Cochran 7, Isaac Hibbard 3, DeAnthony Warren 2, Nick White 2.
3-point field goals: Columbus East 6 (Umphress 3, Nolting 2, Smith); New Albany 7 (McBirth 5, Cochran, Hibbard).