NEW PALESTINE — No lead was safe for New Palestine on Friday night, but the Dragons never let the pressure take hold.
Up by as many as 10 points in the second half, the visiting Shelbyville Golden Bears charged back not once, not twice, but three times, trimming New Palestine’s lead to one point before the Dragons iced their rivals 55-54 from 15-feet.
Led by a trio of double-digit scorers, the Dragons (11-7, 4-2 HHC) fended off the Golden Bears (14-6, 4-2 HHC) by converting 10 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter, moving into a tie with Shelbyville in the Hoosier Heritage Conference standings.
“It was a grind out there. We talked before the game, we needed to win 50-50 balls and win the glass,” New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker said.
The Dragons trailed once in the first quarter, 9-6, before turning on their offense with a 9-0 run to lead 17-12 heading into the second quarter.
Shooting 52 percent from the floor in the first half, New Palestine marched toward a 30-26 halftime advantage as a litany of screen-slipping layups and jumpers dropped for Gavin Hausz, Matthew True and Dylan Romine, who finished with a combined 41 points.
“Any given night those guys can go off. It’s nice to see them all there. More importantly, down the stretch, we hit free throws,” Whitaker said.
Romine had eight rebounds and 14 points, shooting 4 of 4 from the foul line. The 6-foot-2 junior forward’s post-range jumper put the Dragons ahead 38-28 in the third quarter for their largest lead.
Hausz had 14 points, knocking down 5 of 6 free throws to keep the game in New Palestine’s hands, 40-35, at the end of the frame. True, who posted 13 points, was 2-for-2 from the charity stripe.
“It was a loud atmosphere out there and it was really fun to play in. We got a little shaky in the end, but I’m glad we held on,” True said. “We’re a fighting team. We’re going to fight every day.”
The Golden Bears entered the night on a three-game winning streak and continuously strung together runs to chip away at the Dragons.
A 7-0 burst in the third quarter countered New Palestine’s 8-0 run, while back-to-back 3-pointers by Brock Blackwell and Zack Kuhn turned a 47-40 Dragons cushion into a one-point padding with 2:45 left in the game.
Blackwell scored five points for the Golden Bears. Kuhn finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double. Josh Williams chipped in 10, while Cooper Lewis had 20 points, draining four of the Golden Bears’ seven treys.
A Lewis 3-pointer trimmed the Dragons’ advantage to 50-49 with 1:01 left in the game and Williams buried another jumper from deep to cut it to 55-54 with 19.1 seconds.
“We knew they were going to hit threes. That’s what they do,” Whitaker said. “Dylan Romine’s defense on Kuhn was fantastic and I think he wore him down and we kept the pressure on throughout.”
The winning shot for New Palestine, however, came from an unexpected source in the clutch as sophomore Eric Roudebush entered the game in the final minute to replace Hausz, who fouled out.
With his first shot off the bench, Roudebush put the Dragons on his back, hitting the front of a two free throws as 26.0 seconds stood on the clock to make it 55-51.
“That’s Roudebush. If any kid out there, he’s got a little more swagger than all of us,” Whitaker said. “He was the next man up, and he did what he needed to do.”
New Palestine was 14 of 18 from the foul line and their defense did the rest, holding the Golden Bears nearly 10 points below their average of 63.5 points.
The Dragons defense closed the night forcing a wild, rimming desperation 3-pointer by Kuhn as the buzzer sounded to give the Dragons their third win in the past four games.
New Palestine returns to the court on Monday when they host Connersville, a potential Class 4A Sectional 9 foe.