By Jay Tidwell/Special to the Journal
NEW ALBANY – New Albany will look at this one as a really good warmup for the Big House.
The Bulldogs, hosts of this past week’s MHSAA Class 4A boys North tournament, fell 65-58 to Rosa Fort, the top-ranked team in Class 4A, in Saturday night’s championship match.
Both teams had secured berths in Friday’s opening round of the State basketball tournament at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, and were competing for the top seed from the North.
New Albany will play St. Stanislaus on Monday. Feb. 28 in one semifinal. Rosa Fort will meet Pass Christian in the other.
Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, New Albany coach Brad Gray said his team needed to face an opponent like the squad from Tunica County.
“Any time you play a team the quality of Rosa Fort, it’s going to get you battle-tested, win, lose or draw,” said Gray, who won a state title as a player at Senatobia in 1996 and took Hickory Flat to the state title game as a coach in 2005. “There’s a reason they’ve been the No. 1 team in the state in 4A all year. It’ll get you prepared.”
New Albany’s Tadarious Coburn, a 6-foot-6 senior, led all scorers with 24 points, but the Division 1-4A champs were unable to slow down Rosa Fort in the final period.
The Bulldogs (26-4) led at the end of the first three quarters, and were in front 39-37 going into the fourth. That’s when the Lions, the Division 2-4A title winners, shifted into another gear.
Kareem Brown’s assist to Coburn to open the final period bumped New Albany up 41-37, but a basket by Lebarron Collins and a putback by Billy Jackson kept it close. Coburn’s jumper with 6:43 showing tied it at 43. From there, Rosa Fort went on a 10-2 run, boosted by a pair of baskets by MSU football signee Benardrick McKinney (6-6).
A 3-pointer by Malcolm Spears pulled New Albany within 59-55 with 30 seconds remaining, but Collins, Dedrick Westbrook and Jonathan Ankston combined for six straight free throws to seal it.
“We are really playing together as a team,” said Collins, a 6-4 senior. “We don’t have any superstars and we have one goal in mind, and that’s the gold ball.”
Brown, a senior point guard, finished with 9 points and 6 assists for New Albany. McKinney had 15 points for the Lions.
“I told the team we wanted to go there (Jackson) as the cream of the crop,” said long-time Rosa Fort coach Fred Steele, “and if we’re going, to go in first place.”
n Game summary, Page 2B