FORTVILLE — The first half was pomp and circumstance. The second half was a pummeling.
New Palestine outscored host Mt. Vernon 44-20 in the second half Friday night to claim a 68-48 victory in the 76th edition of a rivalry that stretches back to the Kennedy administration.
Ryan Curry regained his shooting stroke to pour in 25 points for the Dragons (9-9, 3-3 Hoosier Heritage Conference), who overcame an inspired first-half performance by the heavy-hearted and hot-shooting Marauders (8-11, 2-3 HHC).
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for NP, which earned its second straight win over MV. In the teams’ last meeting on Feb. 15, 2013, the host Dragons edged their Hancock County neighbors 52-51, clinching their first HHC championship in 13 years and handing the 3A No. 1 Marauders what would be their only loss of the regular season.
Friday was not only Senior Night for Mt. Vernon, but most of the home fans traded in black and gold for purple to support cancer awareness. Many of those same fans — and perhaps even some New Palestine supporters — had their hearts melted a bit by the unique way the two teams began the game.
MV senior guard CJ Coleman, lost for the season on Feb. 8 thanks to a broken ankle, started the game despite sporting a hefty gray brace on his right foot. After the Marauders let Dragons’ forward Connor Roach have an uncontested layup to begin the game, MV senior guard Alec Lohman dribbled the ball the length of the court before handing off Coleman, who was planted under the basket. The future UNC Greensboro Spartan put in the layup, and with years in his eyes, exited to a raucous ovation, likely scoring the final points of his decorated career.
The Marauders channeled the emotion shown by their fallen leader into a motivated first half, sinking 6-of-12 3-pointers and riding a 14-3 run to close the second quarter into a 28-24 halftime advantage. The surge began with back-to-back triples by sophomore guard Miles Wayer and culminated with Lohman’s fall away 3 at the horn. Lohman sprinted back into the locker room after the shot went in, fist-pumping past a roaring student section. If momentum exists, the Marauders had a firm grasp of it at intermission.
New Palestine coach Adam Barton blamed part of MV’s run on himself for calling a timeout right before the spurt started. At halftime, he found a calm group waiting for him.
“I credit these kids because it was an emotional first half and it was an emotional game — and we haven’t had a lot of success lately,” Barton said. “We were down at halftime and our kids didn’t stop.
“(Mt. Vernon) shot the ball really well in the first half, and I didn’t know if that was going to continue. So we just said we’ll keep doing what we’re doing, and we were like 4-of-16 from 2-point range in the first half. So, just stay the course and we’ll go from there.”
The Dragons wasted no time finding their mojo in the third quarter, embarking on a 15-5 run to take a 39-33 lead. The final six points of that rush came via Curry, who collected a 4-point play and two free throws.
NP stretched its lead to 46-38 to end the third, with Samson Haynes finding Curry in transition for an uncontested triple.
After making over 40 percent of his 3-pointers last year, Curry’s marksmanship from 3-point land was down to 29 percent entering Friday. With the graduation of 1,000-point scorer Michael Morris, Curry has become the target of opposing defenses. As a result, he’s already taken more 93 more 2-pointers this year than he did all of last season.
Curry scored the first points of the final quarter off another transition three, then converted two free throws with three minutes and 44 seconds left in the game to push his team’s lead to 59-44 and gather his 24th and 25th points of the game. Curry made 6-of-16 shots and went 7-of-8 from the foul line, adding four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“He did a better job of spacing the floor. Because he was shooting poorly, he continued to try to get to the rim and he got himself in some bad spots where he wasn’t taking a high percentage shot,” Barton said of Curry, who notched his ninth 20-point game of the season. “Last year, they were guarding Michael with their No. 1 defender and Ryan had a nice world that he could live in where he could feed off of that. And now, they can go a little bigger and stronger on Ryan.
“He’s got range and he used it tonight. He took couple shots tonight that were a few steps behind the 3-point line, and I have no problem with that because it opens up things inside.”
Seth Cox, the Dragons’ seven-foot center, took advantage of those open spaces in the second half, scoring all 15 of his points after the break. Haynes added nine points and four assists. Roach had eight points and four rebounds.
Mt. Vernon’s shooting fizzled in the second half, as the hosts went 6-of-21 from the field and managed just three made field goals in the first 12 minutes of the final two periods.
“In the first half, we made some shots, but we played with more energy. We were battling and in the fight, going after balls and winning a lot of balls that were up for grabs. We didn’t execute particularly well in the first half, but we did play hard,” first-year MV coach Travis Daugherty said. “And in the second half, we didn’t get off to a great start. Our defensive energy stunk in the second half. We couldn’t stay in front of people. We fouled too often. We couldn’t get rebounds.”
Four of the five players the Marauders started in last February’s game with New Palestine didn’t see the court Friday. Anthony Burnett and Stephen Turner graduated, Zach Spears didn’t come out for the team and Dan Werner left the squad after its loss at Connersville Jan. 31. The only holdover is Coleman.
“I went and watched them earlier in the year because I had seven years worth of (former Mt. Vernon) coach (Steve) Lynch’s stuff that I had to throw away. I got an idea of what they do, but I knew it was all based on CJ,” Barton said. “So our scouting report looked a lot like an early December scouting report. We’ve had so many issues finishing games that we worrying more about that than what their scouting report said.”
Throw in the fact that freshman sensation Erick Shepherd (10.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg in 11 games) is out for the year because of academic reasons, and the Marauders are really a team in flux.
“It’s not been easy. It’s not ideal for any team, but it is what it is. We need guys to play above themselves a little bit. In the first half, we had some guys maybe playing above their talent because they were playing with great energy and great toughness,” Daugherty said of the roster turnover. “But we’ve got to find a way to sustain that for 32 minutes or you’re not going to be able to beat any team, especially a team like (New Palestine).”
From Dec. 7 to Jan. 10, NP went 6-1. It followed that stretch by going 0-5 from Jan. 17 to Feb. 7. Barton, the owner of three sectional titles as the Dragons’ coach, still feels good about his up-and-down team’s chances in early March.
“We’ve still got an opportunity to surprise somebody come sectional time,” Barton said. “Always do.”
Notes: Wayer’s 15 points paced MV. Lohman added 13. ... New Palestine welcomes Whiteland (7-12) today. Mt. Vernon hosts 4A No. 8 Richmond (17-2). … The Dragons won the JV game 39-31. Cody Long had eight points for NP and Tyler Franklin had 10 points for the Marauders. … The Dragons moved to 4-0 when scoring 60 or more points this season. … Curry now has 105 3-pointers for his career.
New Palestine 68, Mt. Vernon 48
NP — Curry 6-16 7-8 25, Jonas 1-4 4-4 6, Roach 4-10 0-0 8, Haynes 3-7 3-4 9, Cox 7-10 1-1 15, Blackwell 0-1 0-1 0, Riley 1-2 0-0 3, Duffy 0-0 0-0 0, Lytle 0-0 0-0 0, Hiland 0-0 2-2 2. Totals — 22-50 17-20 68.
MV — Wayer 4-10 5-5 15, Lohman 4-8 2-2 13, Thompson 1-5 0-0 2, Coleman 1-1 0-0 2, Deckard 1-4 0-0 2, Sticker 0-0 0-0 0, Ertel 3-7 2-2 10, McCloud 2-8 0-0 4, Campbell 0-1 0-0 0. Totals — 16-44 9-9 48.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
NP (9-9, 3-3 HHC) 12 12 22 22 — 68
MV (8-11, 2-3 HHC) 12 16 10 10 — 48
Three-pt. field goals: NP 7-17 (Curry 6-12, Jonas 0-1, Roach 0-1, Haynes 0-1, Riley 1-2). MV 7-18 (Wayer 2-4, Lohman 3-4, Thompson 0-1, Deckard 0-3, Ertel 2-4, McCloud 0-1, Campbell 0-1).
Rebounds: NP 23 (Curry 4, Jonas 3, Roach 4, Haynes 3, Cox 6, Blackwell 2, Duffy 1), MV 11 (Lohman 2, Thompson 3, Deckard 2, Ertel 1, McCloud 1, Campbell 2). Assists: NP 11 (Curry 3, Jonas 1, Roach 1, Haynes 4, Blackwell 2), MV 8 (Lohman 1, Thompson 3, Deckard 1, Stricker 1, Ertel 2). Steals: NP 5 (Curry 2, Roach 1, Haynes 1, Blackwell 1), MV 7 (Wayer 3, Lohman 1, Thompson 1, Deckard 1, Campbell 1). Blocks: NP 2 (Cox 2), MV 4 (Thompson 3, Stricker 1). Total fouls: NP 13, MV 15. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: NP 16, MV 14.
New Palestine 39, Mt. Vernon 31
NP — Long 8, Hiland 6
MV — Franklin 10, McKinney 6