The Bulldogs appeared to be on their way to blowing out the 16-7 Bears midway through the third quarter. At the 3:26 mark, McBirth hit a pair of free throws to put New Albany up 34-23, which was the Bulldogs’ largest lead.
However, with New Albany up 39-30 at the start of the fourth, Central went on a 10-2 run to pull within one point at 41-40 with about four minutes left in regulation.
A McBirth runner got the Bulldogs’ lead back to 43-40, but 6-foot-5 Bears’ forward Beau Dedmond knocked down a 3 from the top of the key off a Rasheide Bell assist to tie the game at 43 with three minutes remaining. It was the first deadlock of the game.
Byrne gave New Albany the lead for good 45 seconds later when he made a trifecta from the left wing to put the Bulldogs up 46-43.
Bell cut the Bears’ deficit to 46-45 with 1:36 left by nailing two free throws. Cochran answered by hitting the front end of a 1-and-1 with 29 ticks remaining to put the Bulldogs up 47-45.
Dedmond grabbed the rebound when Cochran missed the second foul shot. After Central took its last timeout with 18.4 seconds remaining, Dedmond got the ball near the basket in the closing seconds. He put up the potential game-winning shot, but McBirth came up from behind him and blocked the shot. Dedmond chased down the rebound but could not fire up the ball before the final buzzer.
“Dre came from nowhere and tossed it. It was a great defensive play on his part because Dedmond would’ve scored. [Dedmond] is a good player,” Shannon said.
McBirth finished with a game-high 19 points despite shooting 7-of-18 from the field. Byrne was the only other Bulldog in double digits with 10 points. Junior forward DeAnthony Warren led New Albany in rebounding with six.
“We played well, defensively especially,” Shannon said. “We knew that we were probably going to give up some layups and some paint shots. But I had this fear that if we set up our zone and packed it in, they would bust 3s. At halftime, we talked about maybe doing something different because of all the paint shots they were getting, but we never did do anything different. We just stayed with the game plan.”
Senior guard Kourtlandt Martin paced the Bears with 14 points. Dedmond had a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Bell had 11 points and a game-high four assists.
Bloomington North defeated Franklin Central (13-11) in the other semifinal, 55-50.