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The same streaky shooting that pulled Columbus East out of an early hole put the Olympians right back in it late as they suffered their first loss of the season, 55-51 against New Albany in a key Hoosier Hills Conference game.
A combination of long-range buckets from Conner Umphress and Nate Nolting, along with strong inside action from Bryce Lienhoop, took the visitors from an 11-2 deficit midway through the first period to a 34-27 advantage at halftime.
The inside dominance by Lienhoop, who finished with 19 points and 17 rebounds, continued in the second half, but the outside shooting disappeared as East (4-1 overall, 2-1 HHC) failed to connect on any deep attempts throughout the third and fourth quarters.
The tables turned in favor of the Bulldogs in the second half. Particularly for New Albany’s Leondre McBirth, who poured in 30 points to help bring his squad back from as much as 10 points down. The 6-foot-1 senior had just nine points in the first half before erupting for 17 more in the third period, which included a quartet of 3-pointers and pair of slashing layups that put the Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0) in the lead for good.
Umphress finished with 14 points and Nolting added 10 for the Olympians, but the duo combined for only six points in the pivotal second half.
“We missed a lot of open shots and free throws,” said East coach Brent Chitty. “These guys never quit and battled hard to get us out of that hole early, but things just didn’t fall for us as the game went on.”
Turnovers also hurt the Olympians, who struggled to hold on to the ball against a pesky New Albany defense. East had nine miscues in the first half and another seven in the second half, including five in the third period where Chitty’s crew was outscored 21-11.
Despite the miscues and cold shooting, the O’s still found themselves trailing just 48-45 heading into the final quarter. East managed to get several defensive stops only to come away empty at the other end to remain in the hole.
Behind 53-51 with under a minute remaining, the Olympians sent New Albany’s Dustin Cochran to the charity stripe for a one-and-one attempt. Cochran missed his second attempt to give the ball back to the guests for a chance to tie the contest with 43 seconds remaining.
Unfortunately for East fans, the O’s turned the ball over again as Cochran came away with a steal and layup to finish the game.
“This was a tough game, but I’m telling you our guys never gave up,” said Chitty. “We’re going to be OK. We’re going to take a lot of positives from this game and move on to our next opponent.”
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