By KEVIN HARRIS
During the regular season, Dustin Cochran displayed great senior leadership for the New Albany Bulldogs by knocking down big shots when they need them the most.
He continued that trend in the postseason on Friday night at Scott Gym.
The 5-foot-7 guard hit two critical 3-pointers at the end of the third quarter and some huge free throws in the fourth to help the Bulldogs defeat Bedford North Lawrence in the Class 4A Seymour Sectional semifinals, 61-51.
New Albany (16-6) will return to Scott Gym at 7:30 tonight to face Jennings County (15-9) in the sectional final. The Panthers defeated Seymour (3-17) in Friday’s second semi, 66-44. Jennings County defeated New Albany a month ago today in North Vernon, 56-52.
The Bulldogs will attempt to capture their first sectional championship since 2011 and their 49th in program history tonight.
“They’re a nice basketball team,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said about the Panthers. “They’ve got guards, a four-man [power forward] and a center. Their size presented a huge problem to us the first time we played them. I think it’s a huge problem for everybody they play.”
Both of Cochran’s 3s in the third helped stifle a Stars rally.
Trailing 29-17 early in the period, Bedford (12-11) went on an 18-6 run to tie the contest at 35 with 2:22 left in regulation. It was the game’s first deadlock since 2-2 at the 6:29 mark of the first quarter.
“I think our defense really let us down tonight,” Shannon said. “We were trying to pressure them, but we gave up all kinds of paint shots and all kinds of layups. Our help [defense] really wasn’t good tonight.”
But out of a timeout, Cochran nailed a 3 with less than two minutes left in the third to give the Bulldogs the lead back at 38-35.
Stars’ sophomore Braxton Day cut the New Albany lead to two at 38-36 after making 1-of-2 free throws. But with 15 seconds left in the quarter, Bedford junior Blaze Byrer missed a close-range shot that would have tied the game again.
Cochran then answered by making another 3 right before the third-quarter horn to increase the Bulldogs’ lead to 41-36.
“I think that was a killer for us,” Bedford coach Jamie Hudson said.
Cochran did not get discouraged shooting the ball after missing five of his six field-goal attempts in the first half.
“Coach just told me to keep shooting and shoot with confidence. So I just shot it again,” Cochran said.
The Stars fell behind 49-38 with 5:02 remaining in regulation when New Albany junior forward DeAnthony Warren converted a three-point play. But Bedford pulled to within 51-46 around the two-minute mark when senior guard Trey Turner connected from 3-point range.
From there, Cochran and the Bulldogs secured the victory at the foul line.
Cochran hit four straight free throws, coming on back-to-back 1-and-1 situations, to give New Albany a 55-46 advantage with 1:25 left. The Bulldogs then took their largest lead of the game at 59-46 when they got a pair of free throws from both Javen Reeves and Leondre McBirth.
Shortly thereafter, Cochran and freshman Isaac Hibbard each nailed a free throw to complete the Bulldogs’ scoring. New Albany wound up shooting 11-of-13 from the stripe in the final quarter, with Cochran hitting 5-of-6. For the game, the Bulldogs were 14-of-18 from the stripe (77.8 percent).
“Being a senior, you’ve got to step up and knock down some free throws,” Cochran said. “We just come out and play hard every game.”
Cochran wound up with a team-high 13 points. Teammate Davon Winburn scored 12 points, making five of his six field-goal attempts. The junior guard had 10 points in the second quarter, hitting all four of his shots in the period.
Warren ended up with a double-double, tallying 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Teammate Jeff Byrne had nine points, nailing 3-of-5 from 3-point range. Despite not reaching double figures, McBirth had a solid floor game with eight points, eight rebounds and a game-high four assists. McBirth entered Friday’s game as the Bulldogs’ leading scorer.
“We had balanced scoring tonight — very balanced. So that’s a good thing,” Shannon said. “McBirth [didn’t score as] much. They did a nice job taking his game away. I give them a lot of credit. I think we had superior talent and I think they did as good of a job as they could against it.”
Byrer wound up with a game-high 19 points and a team-high eight boards. Day finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
Hudson thought his team’s free-throw shooting was a crucial factor in the season-ending loss. The Stars were 16-of-29 from the stripe (55.2 percent).
“Free throws were the biggest part of the game,” Hudson said. “Even though our kids really battled back in the second half, the free throws and missed 5-footers really came back and bit us at the end. I keep telling our guys that free throws win you ballgames, especially in tournament time. It showed that the coach somewhat knew what he was talking about.”
CLASS 4A SEYMOUR SECTIONAL
NEW ALBANY 61, BEDFORD NORTH LAWRENCE 51
Bedford NL 7 10 19 15—51
New Albany 11 16 14 20—61
Bedford North Lawrence (12-11): Blaze Byrer 6-13 5-8 19, Braxton Day 4-10 3-7 12, Trey Turner 2-4 0-0 6, Matt Garrison 0-2 5-8 5, Morgan Cummings 1-5 1-1 3, Dillon Hensley 0-1 2-2 2, Matt Shoufler 1-1 0-0 2, Seth Stockman 1-2 0-3 2, Lucas Fisher 0-0 0-0 0, Cameron Lane 0-0 0-0 0, Zach Tran 0-0 0-0 0.Totals 15-38 16-29 51.
New Albany (16-6): Dustin Cochran 3-8 5-6 13, Davon Winburn 5-6 0-0 12, DeAnthony Warren 3-7 3-4 10, Jeff Byrne 3-5 0-0 9, Leondre McBirth 3-9 2-2 8, Isaac Hibbard 1-4 1-2 4, Javen Reeves 0-0 3-4 3, Josh Jefferson 1-2 0-0 2, Isaiah Hickman 0-0 0-0 0, Adrian Pratt-Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Nick White 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-41 14-18 61.
3-point field goals: Bedford North Lawrence 5-10 (Byrer 2-2, Turner 2-3, Day 1-3, Cummings 0-2); New Albany 9-25 (Byrne 3-5, Winburn 2-3, Cochran 2-7, Warren 1-1, Hibbard 1-4, Jefferson 0-1, McBirth 0-4).
Rebounds: Bedford North Lawrence 27 (Byrer 8); New Albany 31 (Warren 10).
Assists: Bedford North Lawrence 7 (Cummings, Turner 2); New Albany 12 (McBirth 4).
Steals: Bedford North Lawrence 7 (Turner 2); New Albany 6 (McBirth, Reeves 2).
Blocked shots: Bedford North Lawrence 0; New Albany 2 (Warren 2).
Turnovers: Bedford North Lawrence 11, New Albany 13.
Total fouls: Bedford North Lawrence 17, New Albany 19.
Fouled out: Bedford North Lawrence — Garrison.
Technical fouls: None.