FOR THE DAILY REPORTER
WHITELAND — Ben Farley and his New Palestine teammates will play for a boys’ basketball sectional championship tonight, but they could not relax much during Friday’s Class 4A semifinal matchup against Greenwood, which entered the game 3-20.
“We didn’t feel good until the buzzer sounded,” Farley said.
Indeed, the Dragons will face Franklin Central at 7 p.m. tonight for the Class 4A Whiteland Sectional 13 championship, but they squandered a 15-point lead at the end of the third quarter in the process of advancing.
The Woodmen cut the lead to two before New Palestine hung on for a 56-50 victory.
New Palestine (13-11), which has won three straight, including two against the Woodmen, will play the Flashes for a second time this season. The Dragons won 73-57 on Dec. 20 in the midst of their 8-2 start.
After that, New Palestine lost six straight, then rebounded to win five of its last eight. It looked like the Dragons would cruise to a win Friday before Greenwood made things very interesting in the fourth quarter.
The Woodmen scored the quarter’s first nine points, trimming the lead to 43-37 with 6:11 remaining. They whittled the lead all the way down to two (50-48) with 37.7 seconds left, but couldn’t get the stop they needed after that.
Farley, a senior, hit two clutch free throws with 31.8 seconds left, extending the Dragons’ lead to 52-48. Greenwood never drew closer after that.
“We got some great shots in the fourth quarter that just rolled off,” Dragons coach Adam Barton said. “We didn’t shoot free throws well (10 of 18 overall, 55.6 percent), but Ben’s two big free throws settled us down a bit.”
Greenwood, which shot 37 percent for the season entering play Friday, hit 18 of 39 from the floor (46.2 percent), including 7 of 13 in the fourth quarter, to claw back into the game.
“I’m proud (of the comeback), but I wouldn’t think anything differently of this group if they hadn’t come back,” Woodmen coach Bruce Hensley said. “These guys aren’t going to quit. They haven’t done that all year.
“We finally made some shots (in the fourth quarter), but we were also a little more aggressive and (New Palestine) missed some free throws.”
The Dragons hit 6 of 8 free throws to seal the game in the final 32 seconds, but missed front ends of one-and-one opportunities three times during Greenwood’s comeback attempt.
New Palestine’s bench played a major role, with Cody Long scoring double figures for a second straight tournament game. He finished with 13 points and nine rebounds Friday, three days after scoring 11 points in a first-round win against Center Grove.
Long, a 6-foot-4 post player, hit 3-pointers to end the first and second quarters, which ended up being the difference in the Dragons’ six-point win, statistically speaking.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win,” Long said. “Greenwood hit us pretty hard in the fourth quarter, but we did what we had to to keep the energy going.”
Kevin Riley led New Palestine with 16 points, while Ryan Curry added 11.
Isenthal, playing his final high school game, led all players with 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Woodmen. Freshman Braydon Kincaid added 16 points off the bench, including seven in the fourth quarter.
Isenthal scored seven of Greenwood’s nine unanswered points to start the fourth quarter, while Kincaid scored seven of the Woodmen’s next 11 points during their comeback attempt.
“(Isenthal) played the way you’d expect a senior to play,” Hensley said. “We’ve got a lot to look forward to with our underclassmen, but we’ve also got to replace six high-character, quality seniors.”