In the title game of the Class 4A Seymour Sectional last Saturday, New Albany guard Romeo Langford pushed his career scoring total to 2,014 points, good for 47th in Indiana history.
He’s still got more than a year to add to that total.
Langford was pretty quiet by his standards, scoring just 16 points in his team’s 54-38 victory against Floyd Central. But he and the Bulldogs — the defending Class 4A state champions — did what they had to do to move on.
New Albany has been tough to take down with Langford in the lineup over the past three years. Only North Central and La Lumiere — both nationally relevant teams with multiple Division I recruits — have done it this season (Langford didn’t play in the Bulldogs’ shocking loss at Columbus East last month), and only Pike, Carmel and Evansville Reitz had managed the feat before that.
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This morning, it’s Center Grove’s turn to give it a try.
Facing a powerful team is nothing new for the Trojans, who won in overtime earlier this season at Ben Davis, the No. 6 team in the state Sagarin ratings. They’ve also played against No. 1 North Central, No. 4 Warren Central, No. 5 Carmel, No. 11 Pike and No. 12 Lawrence North — so head coach Zach Hahn’s crew is anything but untested.
What they haven’t seen is a player of Langford’s caliber. Kris Wilkes of North Central is headed to UCLA and is likely to be named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball this year, but even he isn’t spoken of as reverentially as Langford is.
“I believe he’s the best basketball player in the state of Indiana,” said Columbus East coach Brent Chitty, who has seen plenty of Langford in the Hoosier Hills Conference. “Not only is he a great basketball player, but he is probably a better person. He is a class act. He has great composure, he is very unselfish. As you watch him, he’s just very mature for a young man his age.”
The question with Langford isn’t whether he’s the best player in the state now (he is). It’s where he’ll end up ranking on the list of the greatest Indiana basketball players ever.
“You could have that argument 500 different ways,” Chitty said, “but I think if they consider you, are you one of the best the state’s ever seen? That group of men that you’re throwing him into — I think any of us would pick him first if we were playing playground.
“You talk about Damon (Bailey), you talk about Steve Alford and those guys. Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson. … You’re talking about guys that could play, and for him to be considered in that group, I think, says it all.”
A glance at today’s semifinal matchups:
Center Grove (17-7) vs. New Albany (24-3)
Sagarin ratings: Center Grove 88.97 (16th), New Albany 97.57 (second)
Common opponents: North Central (Center Grove lost, 74-63; New Albany lost, 84-60), Bloomington North (Center Grove won, 74-60; New Albany won, 61-38)
Players to watch: Center Grove — Trayce Jackson-Davis, sophomore center (12.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.5 bpg); Spencer Piercefield, sophomore guard (12.1 ppg, 93.8% FT); Travis Roehling, senior guard (11.1 ppg). New Albany — Sean East, junior guard; Isaac Hibbard, senior guard; Romeo Langford, junior guard (statistics not available)
Outlook: Try as it might, Center Grove probably isn’t going to stop Langford, who could end up becoming the best player in the storied history of Indiana high school basketball. What the Trojans might be able to do is suffocate the rest of the Bulldogs and turn him into a one-man show. That’s essentially what happened in New Albany’s lopsided early-season losses to North Central and La Lumiere. Center Grove has already faced several of the state’s top teams, so it won’t be intimidated — which is often half the battle against Langford & Co. If the Trojans can knock down shots and keep everyone but Romeo in check, they should be in it until the end.
Bloomington South (22-4) vs. Castle (22-3)
Sagarin ratings: Bloomington South 92.92 (10th), Castle 97.53 (third)
Head to head: The Knights defeated the Panthers, 62-54, at home on Feb. 11
Players to watch: Bloomington South — Chance Coyle, junior guard (18.5 ppg); Josh Hall, senior forward (13.5 ppg); Phillip King, junior guard (7.0 ppg). Castle — Alex Hemenway, sophomore guard (15.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 90 assists); Payton Mills, senior center (12.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg); Jack Nunge, senior forward (22.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 63 assists, 44 steals, 89 blocks)
Outlook: This is Bloomington South’s third straight regional trip, but it’ll be trying to advance past the semifinal round for the first time since 2012 — when it lost to Castle in the final. Both the Panthers and Knights lost to Floyd Central by two; for Castle, that game marked the lone in-state loss this season. The Knights are the top scoring team in the IHSAA at 81.8 points a game, while the Panthers have the No. 3 defense in Class 4A, allowing just 44.15 points per outing. Something’s got to give. The 6-foot-10 Nunge, an Iowa recruit, is a handful for any defense, but if there’s a team equipped to deal with him, it’s the Panthers.