By Mike Talbert
JACKSON Cedric Lipsey and Matt Koon twice sprang a trap on the Morton Panthers with just over three minutes left in the game Friday.
Lipsey stripped the ball twice, and twice fed the ball to Koon, once with a behind-the-back pass, for a pair of layups.
That opened the floodgates and New Albany closed with a 16-2 run to win the boys Class 3A State Tournament semifinal game 72-56.
"When he stole those balls all that pressure went off," Koon said. "That was the turning point of the game."
New Albany (32-4) will be playing for its fifth Class 3A state championship at 8:30 p.m. Thursday against the winner of today's Franklin County-Senatobia game. Morton ends its season at 26-4.
"I was just trying to motivate my teammates. I believe (Morton) fell apart," Lipsey said.
Lipsey's steals were set up when Morton point guard Chase Measells fouled out with 5 minutes left in the game.
"We had the full-court pressure off while he was in the game. When he went out we put the press back on," New Albany coach Warner Bradford said. "Our kids are more comfortable with the full-court defense."
Koon turned the ballhandler on the throw-in and Lipsey stripped the ball twice.
"When their guy tried to pivot, Lipsey was there. He has real quick hands," Bradford said.
Until that point neither team had had more than a five-point lead and the lead had shifted hands eight times.
The Bulldogs struggled most of the game and it was the career 24-rebound effort of Bradley Jones, who also led the Bulldogs with 18 points, that kept them in the game for three quarters.
Lipsey added 16 points, Shawn High 14 points and Koon 12 points and eight rebounds for the Bulldogs.
Dulymus McAllister, who was the victim of the first trap, led Morton with 15 points, Marcus Holbert had 10 points and 11 rebounds and Perry Fletcher had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Although New Albany had a 24-23 halftime lead, it wasn't low scoring by either teams choice. Both teams were cold from the field, with both teams hitting only a third of their shots.
The two teams were tied four times in the half. New Albany did its best scoring off turnovers, while Morton hit the offensive boards better in the first half. Koon's putback ensured New Albany a one-point edge going into the second half.
There were five ties and six lead changes in the third period before Lipsey hit the only Bulldog 3-pointer in 13 attempts at the buzzer to give new Albany a 45-42 lead heading into the fourth period. New Albany never lost the lead again.
"I think we loosened up a lot more in the second half and took the shots we are more used to taking," Bradford said. "When we started hitting our shots, the defense seemed to pick up."