NEW PALESTINE — Generating points has not been a problem for the New Palestine boys basketball team this year.
With one of the most prolific offenses in the state (70 points per game), it is usually defensive breakdowns that have slain the Dragons during their up-and-down season.
So it was somewhat surprising to coach Adam Barton and the New Palestine faithful when the script was flipped on them Friday night at the Dragons’ Lair.
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In what ended up being their second lowest offensive output of the season, Mt. Vernon took care of New Palestine 57-48 in a matchup of Hoosier Heritage Conference and Hancock County rivals.
After the game, Barton commented on how strange it was to see his team struggle to knock down shots.
“We haven’t done that in a couple of weeks,” Barton said, flipping through his stat book. “When I run the numbers, I think that will be our worst shooting percentage in a game this year. You don’t want to do that against your No. 1 rival, but we had a quarter with six points and a quarter with nine. That’s not normal for us.”
Credit belongs to a Marauders’ defense which held New Palestine to 30 percent shooting (16-of-53) for the game.
“I was just so proud of them,” Marauders coach Travis Daugherty said.
Early on, however, it did not look like Mt. Vernon (11-9, 4-2 HHC) defense was going to be able to slow the Dragons’ offensive juggernaut.
New Palestine (10-10, 4-3 HHC) jumped all over Mt. Vernon in the early going, taking a 17-4 lead midway through the first quarter, hitting four 3’s and going a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line.
Kevin Riley and Alec Cook led the charge with six points apiece, as 1,000-point scorer Ryan Curry chipped in six first-quarter rebounds on his way to a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds).
But Mt. Vernon didn’t back down. In fact they responded in kind, going on a 20-6 run of their own to close the half with a 24-23 lead.
Erick Shepherd lifted the Marauders onto his back, scoring 10 first-half points and pulling down three rebounds. He would finish with a team-high 17 points along with seven rebounds.
“The start we got off to wasn’t ideal, but they responded so well,” Daugherty added. “(By not giving up) we really showed our growth as a team and some of the ways we’ve matured over the last month or so. This is time of year, that’s what every team’s goal.”
In the second half, New Palestine got its groove back a little, matching Mt. Vernon point for point as each team put up 16. Curry led all scorers in the period with seven.
Again, Mt. Vernon would not be deterred. Led by Michael Ertel (17 points), the Marauders scored 10 of the first 13 points in the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 50-42.
New Palestine went 3 for 13 from the field in the period and could never draw closer than the three they trailed by heading into the final period.
“We still have some major improvements to make (before the tournament begins), but I do think we’re getting better,” Daugherty said.
“I think a lot of the teams in the state right now are riding it out and tired of each other, and losing their willingness to fight, and I’m just proud of our guys for not doing that, for moving forward, for continuing to fight and winning a game against a good team.”
Notes: Friday night’s game was the 70th meeting between Mt. Vernon and New Palestine. he Marauders now own the series lead 41-29. … The Dragons are 8-9 against the Marauders in Barton’s 10-year tenure. … With his 17 points Friday night, New Palestine’s Curry now has 1,023 in his career. He is just two points shy of 1998 grad T.J. Ott (1,025) and four points away from 2013 grad Michael Morris (1,027). The senior trails Dragons all-time scoring leader Tom Giles (1,285 points between 1975-89) by 262 points with two games at the sectional tournament remaining in his career. His current averages just over 21 points per game. … With a win against Yorktown (15-5, 3-3 HHC) next week, the Marauders could put themselves into a tie with Greenfield-Central (9-13, 5-2 HHC) for second place in the conference. … Mt. Vernon plays again today at Richmond (19-3), which defeated Kokomo (10-11) Friday night 67-55. … New Palestine’s next game is tonight at Whiteland (8-12). The Warriors lost 67-64 against Martinsville (13-6) on Friday. … The Mt. Vernon JV boys defeated New Palestine 39-35 Friday night. Josh Williams led the Marauders with 15 points. Xavier White and Damari Gatewood each had 11. For the Dragons, Graham Biggs and Gavin Haysz each put in eight. Devan Gentry scored six.