NEW CASTLE — As Cameron Tabor’s last-second jumper bounced off the rim and dropped into Leah Seib’s hands, the New Palestine Dragons collectively exhaled as they watched the clock strike zero.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky, and the unbeaten Dragons weren’t sidestepping that fact on Tuesday night. New Palestine’s 38-37 victory against host New Castle in their Hoosier Heritage Conference opener was ugly.
But a W is just that, and the Dragons weren’t complaining, no matter how it looked.
“I didn’t think we would be 6-0 after this game,” New Palestine junior point guard Megan Jolly remarked with a laugh. “It was so stressful.”
Able to survive a poor-shooting night and several self-induced mistakes, the Dragons (6-0, 1-0 HHC) found a way, marking the program’s best start since 1993-94 — head coach Sarah Gizzi’s senior year as a Dragon.
Jolly led the Dragons with 13 points, five rebounds and six assists, while Leah Seib finished with nine points and 10 rebounds to fend off the Trojans (3-6, 1-2 HHC) at the New Castle Chrysler Fieldhouse.
“We had to get our heads back into the game,” Jolly said. “This is like the hardest gym (to play in) ever, and I don’t know why. Maybe because there isn’t any red.”
The Dragons offense, however, saw little green. New Palestine opened the game shooting 40 percent from the field to build a 9-5 lead behind a 9-2 run.
From there, however, things unraveled as their percentage dropped to 23 in the second quarter and the Trojans went on a 13-0 run to take a 15-9 advantage.
The Dragons missed multiple wide-open looks and turned the ball over 10 times in the first half before they corrected course. An Emily Newcomb 3-pointer followed by a five-point swing by Seib narrowed the deficit 20-19 by halftime.
“We had to actually run our plays and execute and make our layups because we missed so many easy shots,” Jolly said. “We threw the ball away a lot, too. We needed to clean up our execution.”
The struggles weren’t limited to New Palestine, though, as New Castle converted 15 field goal attempts in the game to match the Dragons. Both teams were 6 of 9 from the free-throw line.
The difference was rebounding where the Dragons won the 40-25 and in 3-point shooting. New Castle knocked down one and New Palestine had two, including a key trey by Emma Grable to tie the game 24-all in the third quarter.
“Emma hit a nice three in the corner, and that gave us a nice boost,” Gizzi said. “She loves that corner three.
“We told them at halftime, really, at that point, who cares about them? What are we going to do? I think they responded pretty well. We made a really nice run with a group that doesn’t normally play together and they brought a lot of energy.”
With Jolly, Seib, Grable, Tatum Biddle and Newcomb on the floor, the Dragons went on a 9-2 run in the fourth quarter to lead 37-30.
“I think everybody has a different role and they add energy, depending on who is in at that time,” Jolly remarked on the team’s depth. “Tatum brings energy on defense, and Emma can hit a big shot with her offense.”
They needed everyone to contribute as the Dragons shot 34 percent on the night. Kate Herron chipped in eight rebounds and eight points, while Grable had five points.
A 3-pointer by Alyssa Semler brought New Castle within a possession 37-35 with 58.0 left on the clock.
Jolly retorted and buried 1 of 2 free throws to put the Dragons ahead 38-35 before Tabor drove the lane for a layup with 21.0 seconds remaining. Tabor had a game-high 14 points and added six rebounds against the Dragons’ stingy second-half defense.
After Herron missed a free throw, the Trojans came out of a timeout down 38-37, and went to Tabor, who fortunately for the Dragons drew iron.
“This is a great road win. I thought our man-to-man defense was good. I thought we did a nice job. They only scored 37 points. I feel if we hold a team under 40, we have a really good chance of winning,” Gizzi said. “We don’t usually struggle to score quite that much, but it’s never real pretty what we do.
“We have a lot to work on,” Gizzi added. “We’re just glad to get out of here with the win.”