By KEVIN HARRIS
It wasn’t pretty, but the New Albany Bulldogs found a way to keep their winning streak alive on Tuesday night at The Doghouse.
Despite not hitting a field goal in the fourth quarter, New Albany’s clutch free-throw shooting in the final stanza helped it gut out a 43-35 victory over Hoosier Hills Conference rival Jennings County.
With the victory, the Bulldogs (13-6, 5-2 HHC) extended their win streak to five games and prevailed for the ninth time in 10 contests. They also clinched third place in the HHC.
If New Albany defeats Seymour in the first round of next Tuesday’s Class 4A Seymour Sectional, the Bulldogs will face the Panthers again in the semifinals.
Although New Albany came out with a victory, it recorded its season-low in scoring. The Panthers (12-9, 4-3) had a season-low point total as well.
“I thought our kids were a step behind tonight,” Bulldogs’ coach Jim Shannon said. “I don’t know if it’s because we played Friday and Saturday, we practiced [Monday] and then played again tonight. It’s that time of year when we probably need to be resting a little bit and we’re not. We’re playing all the time. I don’t know how much we learned from this game.
“I don’t think we played great, but I don’t think they played great either. It’s a good one to get out of the way.”
New Albany looked like it was going to pull away from Jennings in the third. With the Bulldogs up 22-18 early in the period, they reeled off eight consecutive points to go up 30-18.
New Albany maintained its 12-point lead at 36-24 late in the quarter after a layup by senior guard Jermaine Parrish.
But Jennings would not go away.
The Panthers went on a 7-0 run to slice their deficit down to 36-31 with 3:54 left to play.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs missed their first four shots of the quarter as their fans had to start thinking, “Here we go, again.” Throughout the course of the season, New Albany has blown several double-digit leads and ended up on the losing end.
“We believe in our kids. I mean, we’ve got confidence in them. But we made some offensive errors that we’ve just got to get better at,” Shannon said. “In [the sectional], you’re going to have to be able to play with a lead.”
But the Bulldogs did not give in on Tuesday night.
New Albany’s Garrett Arnold and Jeff Byrne each hit both ends of 1-and-1 situations to put the Bulldogs up 40-31 with 1:38 remaining, but a Bailey Sanders putback and a Brad Hunt dunk cut New Albany’s lead to 40-35.
Bulldog senior Josh Rogers responded by nailing both ends of a 1-and-1 to up New Albany’s advantage to 42-35 with 40.5 seconds left. Twenty seconds later, Byrne sealed the victory by knocking down the second free throw in a two-shot situation.
In the fourth, the Bulldogs made 7-of-8 foul shots despite going 0-of-5 from the floor.
“We made them. We’ve been hitting them pretty good,” Shannon said. “If we get the right guys up there, we’re in pretty good shape.”
Parrish paced New Albany with a game-high 18 points, shooting 7-of-12 from the field and 2-of-3 from 3-point range. He scored 13 points in the opening quarter, making all five of his field-goal attempts.
“He was hitting everywhere — jumpers, 3’s and taking it all the way to the rack,” Shannon said about Parrish’s opening quarter. “He was probably the difference-maker in the game. It was a pretty close game and I think he helped keep it at an eight-point difference. He was good tonight.”
Byrne tallied 11 points, while Arnold chipped in eight. All of Arnold’s points came in the second half, as he hit all three of his field goals and both free-throw attempts.
“Garrett has got to give us offense — I mean he just has to. He did a nice job in the second half,” Shannon said. “It can’t just be Josh’s and Jeffrey’s 3’s and Jermaine did his part. Now, we need Garrett to do his and I think we’ll be fine. This is a good team.”
Sanders and teammate Tommy Taylor each scored 11 points, while Hunt chipped in nine.
New Albany will host Bloomington North on Friday.