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.”