For The Daily Reporter
NEW PALESTINE — An emotional night in the community, in the stands, and on the floor led the New Palestine Dragons to their first home win of the year Friday night, 74-72, against the visiting Shelbyville Golden Bears.
“We talked about battling all week,” New Pal coach Trent Whitaker stated afterwards, referring to Brody Stephens Night at the school. “We talked about Brody (Stephens), who was battling for his life; so certainly we could battle for a game.”
With fans wearing orange and back and T-shirts label “Brody Strong,” in honor of the Sugar Creek Elementary student that’s battling leukemia, both teams came out at a breakneck pace.
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Within 3 minutes, Shelbyville freshman Zach Kuhn had scored nine points to give the Golden Bears a 9-2 lead.
Kuhn finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds on the night, which served as a fundraiser for Stephens via a “Pennies for Points” donation program. Both teams participated.
“Kuhn was their leading scorer coming in, and he is going to be a pain in the butt to deal with for the next three years,” Whitaker remarked.
However, Dragons junior forward Jalen Qualkinbush answered with eleven quick points of his own which led to a 20-18 Dragons lead with two minutes remaining in the quarter. The Dragons would never relinquish moving forward.
At halftime, the Dragons led 47-39. The second quarter belonged to Cody Long, who was playing his first game since Jan. 2 after recovering from a stress fracture in his foot.
Long would score 10 of his team-high 18 points in the quarter to sustain the lead.
“Cody played a great game considering it was his first game since early January,” Whitaker said.
In the second half, both teams’ scoring pace slowed, with New Pal using offensive rebounding to prevent Shelbyville from making a run. Specifically, senior center Johnathan Mckay would grab eight total rebounds and two quick put back baskets at the start of the third quarter.
“In the first half we were giving up a lot of offensive rebounds,” Whitaker stated. “So, we challenged the guys at halftime to crash the boards on our end.”
Shelbyville used the 3-point shot to make it a one-possession game late in the fourth quarter, and the two teams traded free throws for the final two minutes.
With eight seconds remaining, Shelbyville retained the ball thanks to the possession arrow, and their final shot went half-way down before bouncing out, to seal New Palestine’s victory and a 18 points over their season average (56.5).
New Palestine will look to notch its second home victory of the season tonight, as the 15-5 Connersville Spartans come to town.