GREENFIELD — Greenfield-Central knew it didn’t have the size to match up with New Palestine’s Connor Roach (6-4), Michael Morris (6-6) and Seth Cox (6-11), so it employed a 2-3 zone to force New Palestine to beat it from the perimeter.
The Dragons happily took the bait, making 10-of-23 3’s and cruising to a 68-40 victory over the host Cougars Friday night.
Though G-C holds the all-time series lead at 26-20, NP has won four in a row against its cross-county rivals and improved to 10-4 with coach Adam Barton at the helm.
Ryan Curry held the hot hand early for the visitors, converting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc to stake his team to a 15-4 advantage after the first quarter.
Greenfield-Central rebounded in the second quarter to keep the game in reach, and trailed 26-14 at half.
Morris, who entered averaging 25 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, registered only five points in the opening two quarters, but announced his arrival on the first play of the third frame.
After an NP in-bounds, Morris sprinted down the right sideline and received a back screen to free a path to the rim. Solomon Haynes lofted a pass just above the basket, and Morris slammed the ball home.
The dunk ignited a 16-8 run for the Dragons, which featured 3’s from Haynes, Ikerd and Morris.
NP created open shot after open shot by whisking the ball around the perimeter, leaving G-C to determine which of the Dragon shooters to leave unguarded.
“It’s tough when they have to worry about Justin on one side and Ryan on the other, and then you have Michael in the middle,” Barton noted. “One of those three has to be open.”
New Palestine (4-1, 2-0 Hoosier Heritage Conference) ended the third quarter ahead 46-23, and lengthened its lead in the final frame behind Morris (five points) and Cox (six points).
Morris wound up 7-of-11 from the field, 3-of-3 from the foul line and added four rebounds.
Curry finished 5-of-8 from 3, scoring 17 points to go along with four steals before fouling out.
“His rookie year as a varsity kid, he fouls out,” Barton said with a chuckle. “He’s beating people up inside.”
Ikerd had 11 points, while the Haynes brothers — Solomon and Samson — were content to distribute, combining for nine assists.
Greenfield-Central coach Josh Johnson praised the Dragons’ defense, whose 1-3-1 half court trap gave the Cougars (0-5, 0-1 HHC) problems, evidenced by 11 NP steals.
“We had a lot of fundamental mistakes. We weren’t moving the ball quickly,” said Johnson, whose group had 10 turnovers. “They got their hands and feet on a lot of our passes.”
Mason Irbe (10 points), Tate Hall (eight points, two assists), Cole Oleksy (eight points, two rebounds) and Derek Conley (four points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals) paced G-C, which shot 38 percent (10-of-26) from the floor and 25 percent (4-of-16) from 3.
Despite still having a zero in the win column, Johnson believes his unit is improving.
Last season, the Cougars also began 0-5, falling by margins of 27, 41, 49, 27 and 44. This year, the team’s losses have come by 15, 11, 14, 13 and 28 points.
“It’s a big change. We’re happy with how far we’ve come, but we still have some work to do,” Johnson explained. “But it is night and day from last year.”
G-C is at Yorktown (4-0, 1-0 HHC) next Friday while NP travels to Westfield (2-2).
“You look back and you wish for 5-0, and you think is it really worth it?” Barton offered. “We’re about where I thought we would be.”
Notes: New Palestine forward Brandon Jonas was out with an arm infection, but Barton said he should be available against Westfield. … The Dragons are averaging 69 points per game, up from 60 last year. … NP won the JV game, which was played on Thursday at New Palestine. Johnathon McKay had 10 points for the home team, while G-C was led by Griffin Lowe’s 10 points.