SEYMOUR — Shooting-wise, it was a rough night for Bloomington North during the Class 4A Seymour Regional final on Saturday at Scott Gym.
The Cougars made 38.5 percent of their field-goal attempts (15-of-39) and 27.3 percent of their 3-point tries (6-of-22).
But all Bloomington North needed was to hit two clutch shots to conclude New Albany’s stellar 2013-14 campaign.
The Cougars captured their first regional championship since 2004 with a thrilling 46-45 overtime victory over the Bulldogs. North will play second-ranked Indianapolis Tech (25-2) in the Class 4A semistate Saturday at either Seymour or Richmond. The Titans defeated Indianapolis Pike in the Southport Regional title game on Saturday, 60-52.
“In a game like that where you are playing for a chance to make it to semistate, you just can’t make mental errors and we made a couple. But we played very well,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “We should’ve won — there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. You have to finish the game and we didn’t finish it.”
New Albany (18-7) went up 36-33 with less than two minutes left in regulation when senior Leondre McBirth converted a layup off a Javen Reeves assist.
After McBirth missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:21 remaining, junior forward Kaleb Ferrell made a layup at the 1:05 mark to pull the 16-8 Cougars within one at 36-35.
Bulldog senior guard Dustin Cochran gave New Albany a three-point cushion with 26.5 seconds left. He knocked down both ends of a 1-and-1 to extend the Bulldog advantage to 38-35.
After North senior Tyler Truesdel missed a 3 attempt, McBirth snagged the rebound and got fouled by the Cougars’ Saikou Jallow with 15.5 ticks remaining. But McBirth misfired on another 1-and-1 front end.
Following a Ferrell rebound, North senior Grant Sims got the ball to Truesdel on the left wing. With time running out, Truesdel threw up a 3-pointer over New Albany’s zone defense while fading to his left.
It hit nothing but net, forcing overtime.
Truesdel was 1-of-10 from beyond the arc before connecting on the unbelievable 3.
“In crunch time, we made some mental mistakes,” Shannon said. “We let [Truesdel] get loose on us and he sent it into overtime. I didn’t think it should’ve got there. We missed a couple 1-and-1s.
“Everybody should’ve been above the 3-point line [on Truesdel’s 3]. If we let them throw it over the top [of New Albany’s zone] and lay it in, the game is over.”
Shannon and his coaching staff considered fouling before Truesdel’s 3.
“I told the guys, ‘Maybe we should foul when they came down the court,’” Shannon said. “But you’ve got to be careful because once they were in a position where they could’ve shot it. We might foul them on the shot. Hindsight tells you that you probably should’ve fouled, but it’s a tough call.”
McBirth started the extra session by hitting two free throws to give the Bulldogs a 40-38 lead. Jallow responded immediately with a 3-point play at the 3:19 mark to put the Cougars up 41-40. It was their first lead since 14-13 late in the first quarter.
With a little more than two minutes left, McBirth got a bucket to give New Albany the lead back at 42-41. North took the lead with 24 seconds remaining at 43-42 on a Ferrell basket. McBirth answered quickly with a 3-point play at the 22.8-second mark, reclaiming the advantage for the Bulldogs at 45-43.
North sophomore guard Malik Laffoon had the last laugh.
He received the ball from Jallow in the right corner and nailed the game-winning 3 with four seconds left in OT to put the Cougars up one.
“We hit them when we needed them the most,” North coach Andy Hodson said. “We kept talking about attacking the basket. In the first quarter, we just put them on the defensive and all we scored were free throws. But then Coach Shannon went to the zone and we stood and took 3s.”
Shannon was disappointed that Laffoon hit the game-winner without much defensive pressure being applied on him.
“There wasn’t anybody within 4 feet of him. You’ve got to play defense,” Shannon said.
Following a New Albany timeout, Bulldog junior Jeff Byrne got the inbounds pass from teammate Isaac Hibbard. Byrne fired up a half-court desperation shot, but it fell short.
For the majority of the game, New Albany appeared to be on its way to its first regional championship in six years.
The Bulldogs held North scoreless in the second quarter to take a 22-14 halftime lead. Cochran ended the first half by getting the roll on a high-arcing 3 from the top of the key at the buzzer.
Cochran gave New Albany its biggest lead of the contest at 28-16 at the 5:10 mark of the third with another top-of-the-key 3. From that point, the Cougars outscored the Bulldogs 22-10 for the rest of regulation to force overtime.
McBirth ended his high school career with a game-high 22 points, a game-high eight rebounds and a team-high four assists. But like in New Albany’s 71-44 loss at North on Feb. 28, he battled foul trouble throughout the game. McBirth picked up his fourth foul at the 7:46 mark of the fourth and sat on the bench for nearly four minutes before re-entering the game.
Cochran also registered double figures with 10 points. Cochran, McBirth and Reeves are the only seniors on the New Albany roster.
Senior guard Grant Sims led North with 14 points and a game-high five assists. Truesdel wound up with eight points, while Laffoon, Jallow and Ferrell each had seven. Jallow also had six points and three assists.