NS on Romeo Langford, Part II: Is defending the state’s top player even possible?

Floyd Central High School guard Matt Weimer defends against New Albany guard Romeo Langford Friday during a game in Floyds Knobs. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Floyd Central High School boy's basketball coach Todd Sturgeon watches his team compete against New Albany Friday in Floyds Knobs. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Floyd Central forward Luke Gohman keeps a close eye defensively on New Albany star Romeo Langford Friday in Floyds Knobs. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
New Albany star player Romeo Langford tears off on a fast break against Floyd Central Friday in Floyds Knobs. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Floyd Central basketball coach Todd Sturgeon speaks to his team during the Highlanders' game with New Albany Friday in Floyds Knobs. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

This is the second in a four-part series of stories touching on New Albany High School basketball star Romeo Langford.

Today’s segment: Is Romeo Langford indefensible?

Wednesday: Indiana’s top basketball player should attend college at …

FLOYDS KNOBS – When Floyd Central held New Albany basketball star Romeo Langford to 15 points in its historic 49-47 overtime victory over the Bulldogs Friday, it was noteworthy on a number of levels.

Not only was it the first time in 20 games that the now-No. 6-ranked Highlanders had beaten their fierce rival, but it was a win over the state’s then-top-ranked team.

On an individual basis, however, what Floyd Central did to Langford was something that just doesn’t happen very often – if ever.

Langford entered Friday’s game averaging over 39 points per outing and had scored at least 47 points in two of the Bulldogs’ three games this season (he had 24 in the other). However, the Highlanders applied a different defensive strategy than they had in previous games against New Albany (the two teams have met eight times in the past four seasons) and finally found some degree of success in containing a kid who may end up as the IHSAA’s all-time leading scorer.

“We seemed out of sync,” longtime New Albany coach Jim Shannon said afterward, “especially offensively.”

Floyd Central had mixed up its defense against New Albany in years past, playing some zone, but mostly man. But in Friday’s win, the Highlander coaches had their squad open the game in a 2-3 zone that “bumped guys” to each other, while also pressuring the ball wherever Langford or his dangerous-shooting teammate Sean East went, and they never deviated from the scheme.

“They had zoned us some in the past,” Shannon said of the Highlanders, “but not a lot in that match-up. But we had looks, we just didn’t make shots.”

Langford was connecting on 81 percent of his 2-point shot attempts prior to Friday and averaged nearly a dozen free throw attempts each game. Against the Highlander zone, however, he missed 10 of his 17 shots, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range. But the most startling statistic is the fact that Langford didn’t get to the free throw line a single time, which also lends credibility to the zone defense that he faced.

“He was trying to get shots,” Shannon said, “of course they were all over him everywhere he went.”

Was the defensive strategy, and its resulting success, an anomaly in slowing the Hoosier State star? Or has Floyd Central coach Todd Sturgeon broken the code on how to contain Langford?

That remains to be seen over the next three-plus months. However, for a weekend at least, it was an aberration.

Langford bounced back from Friday’s pedestrian performance to hit 14 of 22 shots, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range, en route to 42 points in a 97-59 rout of North Side Saturday.

RELATED STORY:NS on Romeo Langford, Part I: Managing the circus

Shannon explained that his team had “seen everything” defensively from opponents over the past three-plus seasons in which his team has featured Langford.

“But it still doesn’t matter,” Shannon said of prior experience. “You’ve seen everything, but we still had looks. We had lay-ups (that) we missed. We had wide-open three’s that we missed.”

“If they are going to put two or three people on him, he can’t always shoot. He’s great, but it’s hard.”

The Floyd Central defense didn’t stop at just contesting Langford or forcing him to give the ball up. Once a Bulldog shot was taken, Langford wasn’t able to follow the shot and offensive rebound like he had in games past.

After averaging three offensive boards per game this season, and over 12 total rebounds per game, Langford didn’t grab a single offensive board against the Highlanders.

That squashes the oft-accepted theory that playing zone hurts a team’s ability to block out.

“When you have three guys on you,” Shannon said, “the other guys have to step up and do something.”

Floyd Central had played New Albany tough earlier in Sturgeon’s tenure.

Two years ago in the same venue, Floyd Central took the eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champions to the wire before falling 60-57, and in last year’s sectional title game at Seymour, it was a single-digit game early in the fourth quarter before the Highlanders had to begin fouling late and ultimately lost by 16.

So Friday’s outcome wasn’t a surprise to Shannon.

“I take my hat off to them,” Shannon said, “they had a great gameplan. They worked it, I thought, really well and they deserved to win the game, (but) I think we deserved to win it too. Either team could’ve won that game. But we’ll take it as a learning lesson.”

The question is will opposing coaches do the same?

For more on prep basketball throughout the state of Indiana, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.