By Justin Sokeland
SEYMOUR – Ben Cosner rose, 15 feet away from the basket, with a defender flying at him and Bedford North Lawrence’s destiny in his hands as he launched the most significant, fateful shot of his life.
Nervous? Nah, he wasn’t even thinking about the consequences. He just fired. Final second, sectional drama. Hoosier Hysteria at its best. No sweat.
Cosner swished that last shot, setting off an explosion of emotion as the underdog Stars stunned New Albany 49-48 in the Sectional 15 semifinal on Friday night and advanced to the championship game for the first time since 2015.
Cosner’s heroic jumper, set up by Colten Leach’s drive through traffic as the Bulldogs attacked him like wild dingos, capped a remarkable comeback. BNL (14-10 with a five-game winning streak) trailed by 14 in the third quarter, by 11 starting the final period, and clawed back to record one of the classic victories in program history.
BNL advanced to face Jeffersonville, which conquered Floyd Central 66-64 in triple overtime in the second semifinal, in the finale.
As New Albany (16-7 and one of the Hoosier Hills Conference co-champions) started to shut down and shrink in the heat of the final moments, BNL rose to the occasion. The Stars scored 9 straight points, taking the lead at 47-46 on two Leach free throws with 30 seconds left.
The Bulldogs countered with Tucker Biven’s drive and bank with 7 seconds left. BNL took a timeout to set its strategy for the length-of-the-court possession, and of course the best-laid plans went astray. Leach took the inbound pass, spun past two defenders and got to the free-throw line. He was supposed to go all the way to the rim. But he spotted Cosner to his left, and got the ball to the senior.
He launched with two seconds left, the ball settled swiftly and softly through the nylon with less than a second remaining. Bedlam. The Stars celebrated, smothering Cosner in a dogpile, as the Bulldogs stared in disbelief, on the far end of the court.
“It was just instinct,” Cosner said. “I was trailing Leach. The goal was for him to get to the basket. They took that away, and I was just trailing behind him. I just let it fly. I was ready, and just let it go. I didn’t even think about it.”
New Albany, which had beaten BNL 12 straight times in the series and owned a regular-season win over the Stars just two weeks ago, will think about it for a long time.
“It’s awful to get beat like that,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “It happens. It’s a tough one, a tough pill to swallow. We got a little tentative in attacking, and they didn’t. They made more plays then we did.”
The fourth-quarter plays of note came after New Albany took a 46-38 lead. Cosner bombed a corner trey, Leach powered his way to a tough shot in the lane with 2:10 left, and Staley turned a steal into a breakaway with 1:12 remaining. Leach swiped an inbound pass with 37 seconds left and got fouled in his hair-on-fire rush to the other end. He calmly made both for BNL’s first lead since the end of the first quarter.
The rest was history.
“We were able to get traps, key steals,” Staley said. “That’s what won us the game, our defense. We were down, we had to step up. And we did.
“I don’t think the seniors wanted it to be their last game. You just have to keep fighting, one play at a time, no matter what happens. We just found a way to win. Unbelievable.”
BNL’s start was smooth, with Cosner flying through the lane for three baskets to create that 13-11 advantage. And then Kaden Stanton, as quick as a left-handed lightning strike, erupted to put the Bulldogs in control. He scored 13 points in the second quarter, including New Albany’s last 9 as the Dogs growled to a 29-19 advantage at the half with a 9-1 closing spurt.
The Stars made some defensive switches at intermission, putting Leach on Stanton and Cosner on Biven. Stanton was still a dream destroyer as he got loose for four more buckets, the last a 3-pointer from the key for a 44-33 lead, leading to the frantic, fantastic conclusion.
“I’m very proud of the way they came back,” BNL coach Jeff Hein said. “We found a way to get it done in the end. A lot of it had to do with the fact our kids had fire in their eyes in the second half. They were refusing to lose. I thought they got complacent with the ball, and we took advantage of that. We smelled a little blood in the water.
”Our kids just didn’t give up. In the second half, our composure was great (with only one turnover). That’s what you have to do to beat a good team like New Albany.”
Stanton finished with 25 points while Biven totaled 13. The rest of the Bulldogs had only four baskets. BNL had much better balance. Staley scored 14, Leach finished with 13, and Cosner added 12.
“I thought Bedford really went to work offensively, kids taking shots,” Shannon said. “They were thinking ‘What else where we going to do? Let’s fire it up.’ And they made them.
“They did a nice job of coming back. We made a couple of turnovers at the end that didn’t help. You have to give credit to their defense and their offense. They just played better than we did.”
BNL, with its most important win since the unexpected run to the 2015 final, will now compete for its first sectional title since 2001. BNL has played in only three other championship games since that triumph.
“We weren’t stopping,” Cosner said. “We didn’t come here to lose, we didn’t come here to give up. We’re not done yet, either. I love all these guys. It just feels so good to come out here and prove everybody wrong.”
Jeffersonville 66, Floyd Central 64: Will Lovings-Watts rebounded a missed free throw and went the length of the court to score with 2.4 seconds left, powering the Red Devils (14-6) to a thrilling win over the defending sectional champions in three overtimes.
Lovings-Watts finished with 17 points. Brandon Rayzer-Moore had 24 points and Jaylen Fairman added 15 for the Devils, who avenged a regular-season loss to the Highlanders.
Jake Heidbreder paced Floyd (13-6) with 31 points. He hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force the first overtime, and he converted a driving layup at the end of the second overtime. Brady Moore added 15 points for the Highlanders.
BEDFORD NL STARS (49)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
11 Ben Cosner, f 1-5 5-10 1-2 2 4 12
31 Jackson Miracle, f 0-0 2-2 0-0 4 1 4
24 Colten Leach, g 1-2 4-7 4-4 1 3 13
12 Kooper Staley, g 3-6 4-7 3-4 5 3 14
22 Colton Staggs, g 0-2 2-7 2-2 4 1 6
3 Aden Pemberton 0-0 0-1 0-0 0 1 0
15 Kaedyn Bennett 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Totals 5-15 17-34 10-10 18 13 49
NEW ALBANY BULLDOGS (48)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
30 Jayden Thompson, f 1-3 1-3 0-0 1 1 3
35 Jordan Thomas, c 0-0 1-1 0-0 3 1 2
5 Kaden Stanton, g 3-7 10-17 2-2 5 1 25
22 Tucker Biven, g 2-6 5-10 1-3 2 1 13
13 Maddox Schmelz, g 0-1 0-1 0-0 5 2 0
4 Josten Carter 1-1 2-2 0-0 0 3 5
3 Tommy Devine 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Totals 7-18 19-34 3-6 16 9 48
Bedford NL 13 6 14 16 – 49
New Albany 11 18 15 4 – 48
Turnovers – BNL 6, New Albany 11
Field goal percentage – BNL 17-34 (.500), New Albany 19-34 (.559)
Free throw percentage – BNL 10-10 (1.000), New Albany 3-6 (.500)