Southwestern bullied New Albany throughout the first quarter, building a nine-point lead late in the second quarter of their matchup Tuesday in Hanover.
But then the Bulldogs decided to push back.
New Albany took control of the game in the second half and pulled away for a 59-48 boys basketball win. The Bulldogs trailed by four at halftime but outscored Southwestern by 15 points over the final two quarters.
Rebel coach Zac Nussbaum knew that his team would have its hands full with the always-tough Bulldogs and wasn’t surprised by the second-half surge.
“They play the hardest schedule in the state so their record is really misleading,” Nussbaum said of the Bulldogs, who came into the game with a 4-5 record. “No matter the level of New Albany you’re getting, you’re getting a great opponent. I feel like it’s a game that gave us a lot to look at. You don’t agree to play New Albany trying to rack up your win total. You agree to play them because it’s a major challenge and really exposes your weaknesses.”
Southwestern (7-5) used its pressure defense to force seven New Albany turnovers in the first quarter alone and harassed the Bulldogs into nine miscues overall in the first half. On offense, the Rebels’ weren’t tentative, attacking the rim against their taller opponents and knocking down outside shots.
That play allowed Southwestern to jump in front. A tough Colton Cloud jumper in the lane — just moments after he had nailed a 3-pointer — staked the Rebels to a 22-13 lead with just over two minutes left in the second quarter.
New Albany coach Jim Shannon, who went on to claim win No. 599 on the night, called a timeout to make the needed adjustments and his team responded. Six-foot-4 junior guard Josten Carter broke loose for a pair of baskets and Jeremy Rose drilled a 3-pointer as the Bulldogs closed the quarter on a 7-2 run to pull to within 24-20 at halftime.
As it turned out, that mini-run was a harbinger of what was to come. New Albany opened the third quarter continuing the tear by knocking down five 3-pointers over the eight-minute span to seize the lead and never look back.
After opening the fourth with a 12-3 run, the Bulldog lead was into the double-digits at 51-38.
Southwestern didn’t back down and used the free-throw line to chip into the lead and get within 51-44 with 2:59 to play. But the Rebels could get no closer as the Bulldogs hit 6-of-8 free throws over the final two and half minutes to salt away the win.
Like he has done after recent losses to Jay County, Warren Central (Ky.) and Providence, Nussbaum said the key to the game was to get better. He knew Southwestern’s January schedule would be unkind, but if the Rebels learn from the losses, it will help them come March.
“We talked in the locker room about the lack of focus and discipline in the halfcourt. We got the matchup and the situation we wanted three straight times and didn’t get a shot off in any of them,” Nussbaum said. “You can’t have that and win a game like this. You can’t have that and win a sectional. “That was the type of things that we really have to work on and get better doing.”
Cloud scored 13 points to lead Southwestern while Peyton Gwin had 12 points. Mitch Mingione and Zach Cole scored eight points each.
Carter led all scorers with 22 points and Tucker Biven scored 11 for New Albany. Rose had nine points and Future Brooks added seven.
Southwestern hits the road on Friday for just its third Ohio River Valley Conference matchup of the season when the Rebels travel to Switzerland County. Southwestern then hosts Rock Creek on Tuesday.