NEW PALESTINE — In a game that will go down as a classic in the 50-year history of this Hancock County boys basketball rivalry, New Palestine knocked off No. 1-ranked Mt. Vernon 52-51 Friday.
Following a thrilling finish that represented the best Indiana high school hoops has to offer, the New Palestine students flowed down from the capacity crowd to storm the court in celebration of a win that was significant for several reasons:
>> New Palestine finished 7-0 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference to claim its first conference title since 2000, and the first for eighth-year head coach Adam Barton.
>> The 3A, top-ranked Marauders (17-1) fell from the ranks of the state’s unbeaten, leaving only 4A No. 1 Munster (21-0), and Class A No. 1 and 2 — Rockville (21-0) and Waldron (19-0) — perfect heading into the final week of the regular season.
>> Michael Morris finished with a team-high 19 points for the Dragons to become the fifth player in program history to score 1,000 for his career.
>> With its 52 points, New Palestine was the first team to score more than 50 against the Mt. Vernon defense — a defense that ranks sixth-best in the state at 40.9 ppg — since the Marauders fell to Westfield 59-52 on Feb. 21 a year ago, a streak of 19 games of 50 or fewer points for MV foes.
“I don’t think we played poorly tonight,” Mt. Vernon coach Steve Lynch said. “I think (New Palestine) just played really well, and in possession games like that … both teams played right down to the end.
“We had chances with 11 and four seconds to go to still win the game. The kids didn’t quit, which is great and I’m awfully proud of that, but when we go back and look at the tape, I think we’re going to say, ‘Too many loose balls.’ The ball bounced their way tonight and we didn’t do anything to affect that.”
Trailing 48-47 with 11.4 seconds remaining, Mt. Vernon turned the ball over under its own basket, and the Marauders subsequently fouled Morris to stop the clock. But, Morris, the HHC’s leading scorer, missed the front end of the 1-and-1 opportunity.
CJ Coleman, who finished with a game-high 24 points for the Marauders (5-1 HHC), grabbed the rebound off the Morris miss and passed to Stephen Turner, who was unintentionally fouled by the Dragons with 5.1 seconds to go.
Like Morris, however, Turner missed his first free throw attempt on the 1-and-1; Ryan Curry grabbed the rebound for New Palestine (14-5), was fouled, and the sophomore made both free throws to seal the win with a 50-47 lead with 4.2 seconds left.
The final four seconds of the barn-burner included a free throw by Coleman to make the score 50-48 after he was purposefully fouled by the Dragons to prevent a 3-point attempt; an intentional miss by Coleman on the back end; two free throws by Brandon Jonas after he snared the rebound; and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Coleman to make the final score 52-51.
Morris and Coleman, the HHC’s second-leading scorer, combined for 13 points in the first half, then, doing what leaders do, put their teams on their backs down the stretch, combining for 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting.
“When you have great players, you let them go play,” Barton said. “CJ didn’t do much in the first half; I thought we bottled him up pretty good, but in the second half he came through and hit some big shots.
“And Michael chased CJ the entire game and still hit some big shots himself. We ask a lot of him. He did a nice job tonight.”
Morris, who has 1,001 career points, answered Coleman and the Marauders at each pivotal juncture as the visitors built momentum and threatened to pull away.
Trailing by as many as eight points in the first half and 26-21 at halftime, Mt. Vernon took its first lead of the second half at 31-30 midway through the third quarter following a Coleman steal (one of four in the quarter for the MV guard) and assist to sophomore Dan Werner (14 points).
From that point forward, there were five lead changes and three ties, with a 3-pointer from Morris at the 2:03 mark of the fourth quarter giving New Palestine what turned out to be the permanent lead at 48-45.
Morris, though, had plenty of help in what was a revenge game for the Dragons; they lost in the county tourney semifinals to the Marauders 60-39 on Dec. 29. Curry (eight points), Solomon Haynes (seven), Jonas (six), Justin Ikerd (six) and Seth Cox (six) capped a balanced New Palestine effort.
Morris, Curry and Ikerd combined for 7-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc, but it was the Dragons’ effort at the rim against the Marauders’ vaunted zone defense that was the difference, according to Barton.
“The main thing we talked about all week was, ‘Don’t be a sissy and stand around the 3-point line and shoot. Make sure you’re going to the rim and attacking.’ And I think our kids had that attitude tonight.
“I think that’s different than what we’ve done against zones most nights.”
That aggression also resulted in a 29-18 rebounding edge for the Dragons, with Roach (seven rebounds), Morris (six) and Cox (six) doing the dirty work.
It was a physical contest typical of the local rivalry, and the officials, for the most part, let the action proceed without a barrage of whistles. Each team was called for 14 fouls.
New Palestine went 9-of-10 from the line, while Mt. Vernon went 11-of-17 (65 percent). Lynch disagreed with several calls, or non-calls, throughout the night. Afterward, though, the seventh-year coach said his team would have to take responsibility for coming up short.
“Just a tough, hard-fought game,” he said. “You’re not going to get all the calls and at the same time, I thought we played really well in the second half.
“When you spot somebody five points at halftime on their floor … you make things tough on yourself. Sometimes calls go your way and sometimes they don’t, but it wasn’t a factor in the game.”
It was the Dragons’ hot start — they led 13-6 at the end of the first quarter and by as much as 21-13 in the second — that proved crucial.
An early deficit would have been too much to overcome against Mt. Vernon’s defense, Barton noted.
“First quarter, we were basically begging the kids for 15 points,” he said. “‘Get us 15 points and get us on the way to that 50 mark, because that seems to be their magic number.’
“And what we talked about doing defensively didn’t work, so we just went back to man-to-man and did a nice job of containing people.”
With the sectional draw Sunday, the 4A Dragons hope Friday’s win proves as a kickstart to another postseason run; they’re the defending Sectional 13 champs.
For one night, at least, they took time to savor their long-awaited conference title.
“That’s really cool, and it’s quite an honor with this conference, because there’s some incredible teams and it’s tough to travel and play in these other gyms,” Barton said of his squad, which won at Pendleton Heights, Delta, Shelbyville and Greenfield-Central this season.
The Marauders will prepare for 3A Sectional 26, which Guerin claimed last season on the way to the state title.
With Friday’s loss, MV will likely lose it’s No. 1-ranking this week in the next-to-last Associated Press poll. The Marauders host Westfield (8-11) Tuesday and Yorktown (14-5, 3-3 HHC) Friday to finish the regular season.
It’s up to the Marauders how they choose to react to the loss, their coach commented.
“I think you can debate it either way — that you keep your momentum if you win, or a loss like this takes some pressure off from being undefeated,” Lynch said. “It’s certainly a bitter defeat when you lose your conference championship to your rivals, so you use it as positive as you can, fuel for the fire.
“It prepares us for the tournament in that, if this happens in two weeks, we’re done.”
And in the long run, Lynch added, Friday’s affair will be remembered for all the right reasons:
“For both communities to come out and support their teams in a game like that is just tremendous,” he said. “This is a game in a couple months or a couple years, the kids will look back and they will remember it — we may not remember it as well or as with much favor as New Pal (laughs) — but they’ll look back and say, ‘Hey, in that gym, in that moment, what a great atmosphere, and what a great game to play in.’”
Anthony Burnett backed up Coleman and Werner with 10 points. Burnett, Coleman and Werner were the only MV players to make a basket Friday.
Notes: Mt. Vernon won the JV game 35-28 behind 13 points from Miles Wayer. Duke Blackwell had 12 points for NP, which will close the regular season at home Friday vs. possible sectional foe Greenwood (6-12). … This was the 75th meeting between the two schools in a series that began in 1963. MV leads the all-time tally 46-29, but New Palestine holds a 15-9 edge since 2000.
New Palestine 52, Mt. Vernon 51
MV — Coleman 10-20 3-4 24, Burnett 4-6 1-1 10, Lohman 0-0 0-0 0, Spears 0-3 1-2 1, Turner 0-7 2-3 2, Werner 4-8 4-7 14. Totals — 18-46 11-17 51.
NP — Curry 2-6 2-2 8, So. Haynes 3-6 1-1 7, Sa. Haynes 0-0 0-0 0, Ikerd 2-6 0-0 6, Larrabee 0-0 0-0 0, Jonas 2-5 2-2 6, Roach 0-2 0-0 0, Morris 7-12 2-3 19, Cox 2-4 2-2 6. Totals — 18-41 9-10 52.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
MV (17-1, 5-1 HHC) 6 15 16 14 — 51
NP (14-5, 7-0 HHC) 13 13 11 15 — 52
Three-pt. field goals: MV 4-13 (Coleman 1-5, Burnett 1-2, Turner 0-3, Werner 2-3), NP 7-17 (Curry 2-6, So. Haynes 0-2, Ikerd 2-5, Morris 3-4).
Rebounds: MV 18 (Coleman 4, Burnett 5, Spears 2, Turner 4, Werner 3), NP 29 (Curry 3, So. Haynes 2, Larrabee 1, Jonas 4, Roach 7, Morris 6, Cox 6). Assists: MV 6 (Coleman 2, Burnett 2, Turner 2), NP 5 (So. Haynes 2, Sa. Haynes 1, Jonas 1, Roach 1). Steals: MV 10 (Coleman 6, Spears 1, Turner 2, Werner 1), NP 3 (So. Haynes 1, Roach 1, Morris 1). Blocks: MV 1 (Spears 1), NP 1 (Cox 1). Total fouls: MV 14, NP 14. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: MV 7, NP 13.
Mt. Vernon 35, New Palestine 28
MV — Wayer 13, Thompson 7, Hays 6, Hine 5, Stricker 4.
NP — Blackwell 12, Riley 9, Lytle 5, Chandler 1, McKay 1.