NEW PALESTINE — It was exactly the start New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker wanted. The ending, however, was not a part of the script.
A four-point effort from the Dragons in the second quarter halted any plans of an upset Wednesday against Class 3A No. 8 Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, as New Palestine eventually ran out of gas and fell 59-50 in Sectional 27 action.
Despite trailing by only one at halftime, the Dragons could not hold on down the stretch, as the Tigers connected on all eight of their free-throw attempts in the final 1:33 of the game to seal the win.
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“We got off to a great start,” Whitaker said. “We had a game plan. We knew they were going to do a diamond (press), and we took them out of it.
“They are best at creating chaos. That’s their basketball game.”
Senior big man John McKay led the Dragons (6-17) with 10 points off a perfect 5-of-5 effort from the field. He also grabbed a team-high five rebounds.
Senior leading scorer Cody Long, who battled early foul trouble, finished with nine points, while freshman Dylan Romine and senior Caleb VanderWal each added seven in a balanced effort.
Tigers (18-5) junior Nick Sibande, who led the team with 14 points, increased the team’s lead to 35-29 early in the second half after a 3-pointer from the right wing. The Dragons would pull within two, though, after four straight points from Long.
However, Long would suffer a concussion later in the quarter and was unable to return.
“Losing Cody really hurt us in the third,” Whitaker added.
New Palestine continued to battle, but a 3 from Robert Cooley at the buzzer saw Crispus Attucks take a 45-38 lead into the final period.
The Dragons cut the lead to as little as five points, but the Tigers, who finished 18 of 21 (86 percent) from the free-throw line, kept their composure and were able to fend of any attempts of a comeback.
“We played with them,” Whitaker said. “It shows a lot of heart.”
New Palestine finished the game 16-for-36 (44 percent) from the field, while Crispus Attucks was 19-for-42 (45 percent).
New Palestine jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead early in the first quarter after a Duke Blackwell drive and score and five Long points. The Tigers would continue to pressure the ball, however, and outscored the Dragons 13-8 during the next four minutes to tie the game at 15-all.
Thanks to a VanderWal 3-pointer at the buzzer from three-quarters court, New Palestine closed the quarter on an 8-2 run to take a 23-17 advantage heading into the second period.
Then open looks began to disappear.
After shooting 9 of 16 in the opening frame, the Dragons finished just 1 for 5 in the second and saw their lead dwindle. A putback at the horn from Sibande gave Crispus Attuck a 28-27 lead at the break.
Whitaker, who completed his first season with the program, said he couldn’t have asked for a better senior class to begin his coaching career with.
“They are great kids,” he said. “They came and played basketball. I didn’t have to worry about their grades or something else going on.”