Columbus East coach Brent Chitty said hosting Class 3A No. 1 ranked Brownstown Central in a loss Thursday made his team better.
The Olympians proved that to be true when they hosted 4A No. 1 New Albany two days later. The Bulldogs were without superstar Romeo Langford because of a finger injury and could have used his offensive production in a 52-46 loss to the Olympians.
East was in jeopardy of losing three consecutive games for the third time this season, but Chitty said his team bought into playing with energy for four full quarters to get the win.
“When you can elevate yourself to play at those top ranked levels, then the bottom line is, ‘Can you practice that way every day?’” Chitty said. “That’s on us. Now you know you can do it, you just have to do it everyday.”
Story continues below gallery
The game started slow, with no baskets dropping for either team until three minutes into the first quarter, but the Olympians (7-10, 2-2) got it going in the second. They started the second quarter on a 10-4 run to take a two-point lead.
There were a handful of lead changes, and New Albany (16-3, 5-1) managed to end the half with a 22-20 advantage. The Bulldogs led for much of the third quarter, being carried by Sean East, who had nine of the team’s 13 points in the period.
Columbus East was faced with its biggest deficit down six with 2:28 left in the third quarter, and Chitty just told his guys, “do what we do, don’t change the script.” The Olympians rallied back with a 7-0 run, taking a one-point lead off of a Tanner McFall steal and dunk.
McFall turned three of his four steals into fast-break dunks and said those plays were the key to keeping the momentum in front the home fans. McFall finished with a team-high 17 points, hitting 7 of 9 free throws, and Chaz Painter added 14 points.
“Our crowd did a great job of getting behind us and giving us a lot of momentum,” McFall said. “(My teammates) were up pressing their guys, making them throw those long unconventional passes, and I was just lucky enough to be the guy to jump in front of the passing lane.”
Columbus East’s lead did not last long, with a buzzer-beater putting New Albany back on top by one. The Bulldogs had a 44-41 lead with just under four minutes remaining when the Olympians strung together five consecutive points to take a four-point lead, the team’s largest lead to that point. New Albany scored with 2:20 to pull within two, but Columbus East’s defensive pressure left the Bulldogs scoreless for the remainder of the game.
Chitty said defense wins championships, and McFall said the Olympians knew New Albany would want to get out and run the floor.
“We didn’t want them to dictate the speed of the game,” McFall said. “We know that if we do what we want to do then we can hang with anybody. … (This win) is extremely important. It just shows us that we have the toughness. We can do it, and we just have to stick with it the rest of the season.”