The New Albany High School boys basketball team picked a bad time to go cold from the free-throw line, and the result was a 54-44 loss to Dublin Scioto in the opening round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 23 at Reynoldsburg.

The New Albany High School boys basketball team picked a bad time to go cold from the free-throw line, and the result was a 54-44 loss to Dublin Scioto in the opening round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 23 at Reynoldsburg.

Coach Sam Davis didn't place all of the blame on errant foul shooting, but the Eagles converted just eight of 18 attempts overall (44.4 percent) and made five of 12 (41.7 percent) during the fourth quarter as they squandered several opportunities to cut into their deficit with the clock stopped. New Albany shot nearly 70 percent from the free-throw line during the regular season.

"We just didn't play very well, period," Davis said. "We didn't shoot well. We looked uncomfortable on defense. It was a lot of things."

The Eagles finished 12-9 overall as a five-game winning streak ended, and Davis is hoping the strong second half of the season will motivate his players heading into the offseason. They won seven of their final nine regular-season games and went 6-1 during second-round play in the OCC-Capital Division, avenging earlier losses to Delaware (55-42 on Feb. 10) and co-champion Mount Vernon (47-44 on Feb. 17).

"I just hope our kids understand how important the offseason really is," Davis said. "We have to get into the weight room because you have to be strong and physical playing Division I. We have to handle the ball and we have to shoot it. There's a lot to do."

The Eagles lose three seniors in guards Jay Marshall and Chris Scott and 6-foot-4 post player Evan Schneider.

They are expected to return several key players, including 6-2 junior guard Jalen Rhea. He averaged a team-high 14.4 points and set a school record by making seven 3-pointers during an 81-44 victory over Columbus West on Dec. 30. The others include 6-6 junior swingman Jack Serbin, who was another scoring threat on the perimeter, and junior guard Jonathan Tolber, a defensive catalyst.

Junior guard Devon Pitts, a key contributor off the bench, and sophomore guard Darrell Miller, whose role was expanded when Tolber missed several games because of knee injury, also are expected to return. Others receiving playing time were sophomores Tanner Cline, Nick Eaton, Avery Schneider and Trey Quillin and 6-6 freshman John Miller.

The Eagles went 10-4 to place third in the OCC-Capital behind Olentangy Orange and Mount Vernon (11-3 each) and ahead of Delaware (7-7), Big Walnut (7-7), Hilliard Bradley (6-8), Franklin Heights (3-11) and Watkins Memorial (1-13). Rhea made first-team all-league and Marshall was on the second team. Evan Schneider was special mention and Tolber was honorable mention.

Rhea also was honorable mention all-district. His 15 points led New Albany in the tournament loss to Scioto.

Already leading 35-31, the Irish scored the first five points of the fourth quarter. The Eagles never got closer than three points after that, pulling to within 45-42 on Scott's put-back with 1 minute, 31 seconds remaining.

"Everything was a new experience for our kids this year. Our most experienced player coming back was Jalen Rhea, and he didn't play a lot (before this season)," Davis said. "The intensity level in the tournament is different, and that was new for us, too. You can't practice that; you have to experience it."