DUBLIN – With nine players seeing their first tournament action, New Albany coach Sam Davis knew their would be a learning curve.
Fortunately for the Eagles, the learning curve only took three quarters. New Albany erased an eight-point Bexley lead with crisp offense in the fourth period in a 47-44 Division II Central District sectional semifinal win at Dublin Coffman Wednesday.
“We’re a very young team and every opportunity we’ve had, we’ve used it to get better,” Davis said. “This was the first tournament game for nine kids and the first one is always the hardest. They were nervous early, but in the fourth quarter they had got their feet wet and pulled it out for us.”
JJ Armstrong led New Albany with 14 points. Chase Sutton followed with 12 points, Peter Kobelt had 11 and Wes McKeever added eight points.
Trailing 32-24 entering the fourth period, New Albany (12-9) scored on seven of its first 10 possessions of the period. Sutton began the 17-8 run with a layup and finished it with a three-pointer, staking the Eagles to a 41-40 lead with three minutes left. Kobelt also had five points during the surge and McKeever had two layups inside.
“We’re a three-point shooting team and when you don’t make threes, you are in trouble,” Davis said. “We struggled for the first three periods, but then in the fourth we hit a couple of threes, and did a much better job of passing the ball and looking for good shoot opportunities.
New Albany then transitioned its effective offense down the stretch from the field to the charity stripe, converting six free throws in the final two minutes to put the game on ice.
The last two free throws from Armstrong put the Eagles ahead 47-44 with 11.3 seconds left.
“Our free throw shooting in the closing minutes was critical,” Davis said. “We made something like 11 of 15 free throws, which is pretty good.”
Bexley (16-5) had a shot to send the game into overtime but it fell wide of the mark.
The Lions controlled the action for the first three quarters. Bexley expanded its lead to eight in the third period with Haenszel hitting a three-ball with five ticks remaining in the period.
New Albany advances to the sectional championship Saturday evening against No. 6 seed Granville.