BEECH GROVE — In its first game of the new year, New Palestine found a new weapon.
The Dragons used a smothering 2-3 zone defense and a dominant second quarter to rout host Beech Grove 66-41 Saturday afternoon.
For the third straight season, New Palestine is off to a 5-2 start. It finished 17-7 and 15-6 the past two years, winning a sectional championship in 2011-12.
Saturday, the Dragons limited the Hornets (6-3) to their lowest scoring output of the season — 28 points below its season average of 69.
Offensively, New Palestine senior center Seth Cox scored a career-high 17 points and added eight rebounds. Junior guard Ryan Curry, scoring at a 20.3 points per game clip coming into Saturday, poured in 23 for his fifth 20-point game of the season.
“As far a complete game with four quarters on both sides of the ball, yeah, I think so,” said NP coach Adam Barton when asked if Saturday was his squad’s best performance of the season. “It was our best defensive game, especially coming off two weeks off.”
Prior to Saturday, the Dragons last played on Dec. 21 and suffered a 73-52 defeat at common Sectional 13 foe Franklin Central. New Palestine’s other loss came in its opener Dec. 6 vs. Center Grove, another Sectional 13 squad.
The red and white had awhile to think about the Franklin Central setback — Barton sarcastically said that it was great to go into their holiday break with “something ugly like that” — but the loss provided Barton and his staff with some perspective: they needed to find another defensive set to use against smaller, more agile teams.
“It was our gift from Santa Claus. It was something we started working on over Christmas break,” Barton said of the zone. “Realistically, we struggled defending Center Grove and Franklin Central, and we have to have some other options come tournament time. (Assistant) coach (Trent) Whitaker says I have some commitment issues with the 2-3 zone. We decided we were going to play it the whole game today, get it on tape and make changes to it if needed.”
On paper, deploying the zone vs. a quality 3-point shooting team like Beech Grove was a bold move. Heading into Saturday, the Hornets were shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc. Of the team’s five players with at least 13 3-point attempts, four were making at least 43 percent of their shots and three were converting at least 48 percent.
But Saturday, NP delivered a zone showing that would’ve made Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim proud; Beech Grove shot 33 percent from the field and 8-of-23 (35 percent) from 3. With the 7-foot Cox protecting the rim and the Dragons’ overall length closing off passing lanes, the Hornets — whose five starters were 5-10, 5-10, 6-0, 6-1 and 6-1, and had no players taller than 6-2 — were mostly helpless on offense. Size-challenged Beech Grove was outrebounded 34-15.
“It was risky and it was not very smart, actually. But, we knew we had to do it at some point,” Barton said of the decision to use the zone Saturday. “Our next two games are conference games, so we need to have the option of going back and forth (between man-to-man and zone).
“The other thing is it surprised them because all they’ve seen is man-to-man. They weren’t scouting report-ready for a 2-3 zone. Beech Grove is a quality opponent and they shoot the ball extremely well. But our kids did a nice job of recognizing and putting them in bad spots defensively.”
The first quarter had four lead changes, the last of which came when Curry clanged in a 3-pointer from the left wing as the buzzer sounded to put his team up 13-12. That triple touched off an 11-0 NP run that lasted until the 4:52 mark of the second quarter when Joe Pich converted the Hornets’ only made field goal of the stanza.
The second quarter was the Curry and Cox Show, with the two scoring 15 of the Dragons’ 18 points in the frame. Beech Grove scored just four points in the quarter and missed nine of its 10 shots.
New Palestine led 31-16 at half, and stretched the margin to 17 in the third quarter before a mini-rally by the Hornets cut the advantage to 42-29 heading into the fourth.
But Dragon reserve guard Keegan Lytle sparked a 10-4 spurt to begin the final frame, drilling a 3-pointer and dishing out assists on the three other field goals during the run.
Lytle, a 5-9 senior, recorded his first statistics of the season, tallying three points, six assists and two rebounds. He also assisted on three of Cox’s seven made field goals, displaying a deft touch on post-entry deliveries.
“We ripped on (Lytle) a little at halftime because on his first touch, he threw a perfect outside hand-up high pass and nobody had a chance to catch it but Seth. The next one, he tried to throw a bounce pass past their 6-1 post player (Pich). After that, he kept them up in the air,” Barton said. “That was by far Keegan’s most minutes and most productive game. He took care of the basketball.”
NP now turns its attention to Hoosier Heritage Conference play. The Dragons beat Greenfield-Central 59-47 on Dec. 13 in their only conference game to date, but host Delta (4-3, 0-2 HHC) Friday and HHC co-leader Pendleton Heights (5-2, 2-0 HHC) on Jan. 17.
“Yeah, we’ve got two big weeks of conference games if we ever get back to school,” joked Barton, referencing the wintery weather that wound up blanketing Central Indiana Sunday and Monday.
Notes: Beech Grove’s lowest scoring game prior to Saturday was 49 in a loss to Park Tudor on Dec. 13. … The Hornets’ two losses before Saturday came to the No. 1 (Park Tudor) and No. 3 (Scecina) ranked teams in the Class 2A Sagarin ratings. … Yorktown is also 2-0 in HHC play. … Cox’s eight rebounds tied the career-high he set against Greenfield-Central. … Pich paced Beech Grove with 13 points. … 1991 Greenfield-Central graduate Matt English is in his sixth season as the Hornets’ coach. … Beech Grove won the JV contest 49-48. Logan Duffy and Ben Farley scored 14 points apiece for New Palestine.
New Palestine 66, Beech Grove 41
NP — Curry 7-13 7-7 23, Lytle 1-1 0-0 3, Blackwell 1-2 0-0 3, Jonas 3-7 0-0 6, Haynes 0-0 0-0 0, Riley 1-5 0-0 3, Long 3-6 0-1 6, Hiland 0-1 0-0 0, Roach 2-3 0-0 5, Cox 7-9 3-5 17. Totals — 25-47 10-13 66.
BG — Cardenas 3-10 0-0 11, Chumley 0-6 0-0 0, Dyson 0-4 0-1 0, Jennings 1-4 0-1 3, J. Pich 5-6 2-4 13, T. Pich 2-4 1-2 6, Brumfield 2-4 0-0 5, Zoellner 0-1 0-0, Page 0-0 0-0 0, Baughman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 13-39 3-8 41.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
NP (5-2) 13 18 11 24 — 66
BG (6-3) 12 4 13 12 — 41
Three-pt. field goals: NP 6-9 (Curry 2-3, Lytle 1-1, Blackwell 1-1, Riley 1-2, Roach 1-2), BG 8-23 (Cardenas 3-7, Chumley 0-6, Dyson 0-3, Jennings 1-2, J. Pich 1-1, T. Pich 1-1, Brumfield 2-3).
Rebounds: NP 34 (Curry 2, Lytle 2, Jonas 5, Haynes 2, Riley 4, Long 6, Hiland 1, Roach 4, Cox 8), BG 15 (Cardenas 4, Chumley 2, J. Pich 2, T. Pich 5, Brumfield 1, Page 1). Assists: NP 16 (Lytle 6, Blackwell 3, Jonas 1, Haynes 1, Riley 1, Hiland 1, Roach 3), BG 7 (Cardenas 1, Dyson 2, Jennings 3, Brumfield 2). Steals: NP 6 (Curry 2, Blackwell 2, Riley 1, Roach 1), BG 4 (J. Pich 2, T. Pich 1, Page 1). Blocks: NP 2 (Blackwell 1, Cox 1), BG 1 (Cardenas 1). Total fouls: NP 10, BG 10. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: NP 10, BG 13.
Beech Grove 49, New Palestine 48
NP — Farley 14, Duffy 14, Cook 9, Rightley 4, McKay 4, Vanderwal 3.