By GREG MENGELT
Host Jasper jumped out to a 7-1 lead and never trailed in a 51-46 victory over New Albany on Saturday.
After a 3-6 start, the Wildcats have won four straight. They ended a Bulldog four-game winning streak in the process.
Jasper’s victory also ended a nine-year drought against the Bulldogs.
“We’ve had some good wins, but this is our first real big win,” Jasper coach John Goebel said. “We feel like we beat a quality opponent tonight. We have a ton of respect for [New Albany coach] Jim Shannon and his program. To be able to knock them off tonight — and to play as well as we did — we’re proud of that.”
“I give Jasper a lot of credit,” Shannon said. “I thought they played really hard. They played a lot harder than we did. They played a lot smarter than we did.”
It was a long weekend for the Bulldogs, who dropped to 8-6 with the loss. After traveling 113 Evansville and beating North 53-50 on Friday, New Albany got back on a bus and traveled 80 miles to Jasper on Saturday. In total, the Bulldogs spent nearly eight hours on a bus over the weekend.
Shannon refused to blame the Bulldogs’ slow start our their cold shooting on the schedule.
“That’s not it,” he said. “We probably took [Jasper] a little bit light, for whatever reason, and we just couldn’t get it going early. We were just completely out of sorts.”
The Bulldogs looked like they had tired legs early and Jasper senior point guard Nate Messier took advantage.
After converting on a 3-point play to open the scoring, Messier scored two more baskets and assisted on two others to give the Wildcats a 15-13 lead at the end of the opening period.
Messier, who finished with 16 points and three assists, missed all four games during a four-game losing streak just prior to the recent four-game winning stretch.
“Nate Messier is so important to us,” Goebel said. “Our offense is much more efficient. Our wins and losses don’t rest solely on his shoulders, but he’s an important link in our chain, obviously. When he’s playing well, we’re a much better team.”
The Jasper defense shut down New Albany in the second quarter, holding the Bulldogs to just eight points and running out to a 23-18 halftime advantage.
In fact, the Wildcat D was strong all night. One night after shredding the North defense with dribble-penetration, New Albany point guard Jermaine Parrish and the Bulldogs struggled to get anything going to the basket and had to settle for 25 3-point attempts against Jasper.
The Wildcats held the Bulldogs to 16 field goals on 46 attempts to 30.4 percent. New Albany connected on just five of its 25 shots from behind the arc.
“We recognized that we had to stop the basketball. We had to stop their dribble-penetration and keep the ball from the basket,” Goebel said. “If we were going to allow people to get to the bucket, it was going to be a long night for us.”
“They did a nice job of keeping us from getting any dribble-penetration,” Shannon said. “When we did get the ball inside, we got zero points in the post.”
New Albany’s biggest, most talented and most experienced post player — Anthony Edwards — had just two points and one rebound through three quarters. A night after scoring seven points and grabbing 12 boards, the 6-foot-5 center finished with just four and four on Saturday.
“He needs to ask himself how he gets  rebounds one night and one [through three quarters] the next,” Shannon said.
Jasper expanded its lead to 27-20 less than three minutes into the third quarter, but the Bulldogs responded with a 7-2 run to get within two points. However, the Wildcats closed the period on another spurt and led 37-30 heading into the final period.
New Albany cut the Wildcat lead to two points four times in the fourth — at 39-37, 41-39, 43-41 and 45-43 — but couldn’t draw even or take the lead.
“As bad as we played, we still had a chance to win the game with all kinds of guys hobbling around,” Shannon said.
A Garrett Arnold reverse layup with 46 seconds left drew the Bulldogs to within 45-43.
However, Nick Gobert took the inbounds pass at halfcourt and beat New Albany down the court. He made a layup and was fouled. He hit the ensuing free throw for a 48-43 Jasper lead with 41.7 seconds remaining.
“Garrett got the layup and [Gobert] was his man,” Shannon recalled. “He took off and nobody was back. We just didn’t cover for Garrett. It was a great play. [Jasper] made a lot of nice plays.”
“That was really a big shot,” Goebel said of Gobert’s heroics. “It was a difficult shot that was contested. And he also hit the foul shot. Obviously, any shots down the stretch in the fourth quarter are important, but that showed a lot of composure and character for him to be able to do that.”
Rogers led the New Albany 16 points, including four 3-pointers, five rebounds, and assist and a blocked shot.
“He at least tried hard, I’ll give him that,” Shannon said of the 6-3 senior forward. “He was the only one really doing anything on offense. That was probably the only bright spot. We just didn’t get a really good effort as a team.”
Parrish and Arnold finished with eight points apiece for New Albany, which hosts Class 2A No. 4 Providence (13-2) on Friday.
“The kids either rebound and come back next week and get ready to play, or they pout and get beat again,” Shannon said.