INDIANAPOLIS — The New Palestine boys basketball program hasn’t won three sectional titles in the last four seasons by overreacting to regular season defeats.
Whether it be contests lost at the last second or defeats of the blowout variety (which have been rare), the Dragons generally stay even keel, mimicking their head coach.
Friday was a clear example of the New Palestine “learn from your mistakes” mantra. Following a 51-42 loss at Roncalli, a game in which the Dragons controlled the first half, coach Adam Barton said his squad was better for having faced the 4A Rebels (7-5).
“I think we got a lot out of tonight, even though we didn’t get a victory,” Barton remarked of the setback, which as a non-conference matchup against a non-sectional foe, served solely as a tourney tune-up. “They’re so strong. If we could get Roncalli to come practice us twice a week, we would be so much better.
“This time last year, and every year for 30 years, we played Triton Central tonight. And I don’t think we got as much out of those games every year as we did this one.”
The 2A Tigers dropped New Palestine from their schedule to make room for new opponents after switching conferences, so the 4A Dragons took the opportunity to beef up their schedule.
They got all they could handle Friday in the first battle between the two schools since Roncalli edged NP 41-40 in the sectional opener on March 4, 2003, when both programs were 3A.
The home team raced to a 10-3 lead before Dragons senior center Michael Morris scored seven points during a13-2 run that gave New Palestine a 16-12 advantage early in the second quarter, and Morris’ team went to halftime in front 21-18.
At that point, Roncalli’s own standout senior center, 6-7 Michael Clements (bound for NCAA Division II Northwood in Michigan) had only a pair of free throws and an 0-for-4 mark from the field.
In the third quarter, Clements notched seven points and, along with a renewed defensive effort from his teammates, the Rebels took over the game.
Roncalli beat the Dragons 15-7 in the third quarter, then went up by as many as seven points early in the fourth quarter, at 35-28.
“I think we lost a little bit of our legs and our intensity,” Barton said. “I thought in the first half every time there was a loose ball or a rebound we were strong and chinned it. And right off the start in the third quarter we were straight up and down and they bumped us off passes.
“We had a couple rebounds where, in the first half, we secured it and put in our chin, and the second half they kind of bumped us a little bit. I think that’s because they were bigger or stronger in five spots than we were. They kind of wore us down a little bit.”
As he has done so often this season, however, Morris refused to let the Dragons go quietly. What could have been a runaway win for the Rebels was a tie game — at 39-39 with three minutes remaining — after Morris knocked down three straight 3-pointers during an 11-4 blitz.
Clements (13 points) and Roncalli swingman Cam Smock (18 points) answered with back-to-back baskets centered around a missed New Palestine 3-pointer, then Roncalli senior Robbie Prather put the game away with a 3-pointer for a 46-39 lead with 50 seconds left.
As talented as Clements is, it was the 6-3 Smock (8-of-9 from the field) who gave the Dragons the most trouble.
“He’s the same size as the guys we’re playing in the post with Connor (Roach) and Brandon (Jonas),” Barton said of Smock, “but he’s got an a few more options on the perimeter where he can shoot it. And he ran the floor pretty well. He’s a tough matchup for us.”
Morris finished with 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-9 from long range, to edge Smock for game-high honors.
Averaging 18.8 points per game, Morris is battling Mt. Vernon’s CJ Coleman for the Hoosier Heritage Conference scoring title. Last weekend, Morris hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to sink Pendleton Heights, 51-48.
And while Clements received a Division II college offer and Coleman is being looked at by Division I mid-majors such as Lamar, Western Michigan and Stetson — and deservedly so — Morris has gotten the attention of mostly DIII schools.
“I wish I knew an answer,” Barton said. “No Division II people are calling. I have no problem with him playing Division III, because he’ll be a hero at the Division III level. But, it’s not like he’s scoring 20 points a game on 40 shots. He’s shooting 55 percent and 45 percent, he can defend anybody.
“They’re missing the boat. He’s a great kid, he’s a hard worker. So maybe it will happen. Maybe somebody will bump into him and it will all change quickly.”
Prior to Friday, Morris was knocking down 57 percent of his total field goal attempts and 45 percent of his 3-pointers while pulling down 6.8 rebounds per game.
Morris was the only Dragon in double figures against Roncalli. Seth Cox came off the bench and equaled a season-high with eight points. Ryan Curry and Solomon Haynes had six points apiece. Jonas, the Dragons’ second-leading scorer (10.3 ppg), was held to a season-low one point.
Morris and the Dragons have plenty of time to turn heads, especially if they can defend their 4A Sectional 13 in six weeks.
Tonight, they’ll face a possible Sectional 13 foe when Whiteland (5-7) visits New Palestine.
With Friday’s test fresh on their minds, the Dragons will be ready.
“I’m actually extremely happy with what we got to experience,” Barton said of the rare visit to Roncalli. “A neat gym, a packed gym, it was hot.
“Our thing since the Delta game (Jan. 4) is just improve a little each day, and if we take two steps back against Whiteland, it will be dangerous. But if we play like we did tonight against Whiteland, we should be pretty successful.”
Tonight’s game (7:30 p.m. varsity start) will serve as a Coaches vs. Cancer event, with raised funds going to help former New Palestine cheerleader and gymnast Liza Angelicchio and her family. The 2008 New Palestine grad is battling leukemia.
Notes: Barton (91-78 since 2005) is one win from equaling Wally Cones (92-60; 1954-62) for third on the program’s all-time coaching win list behind Brian Kehrt (126-93; 1995-2005) and Ed Frieje (116-57; 1978-86). … New Palestine and Roncalli are the two smallest schools in Class 4A with 1,092 and 1,090 students, respectively. New classifications for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years will be announced by the IHSAA in March. … Roncalli won the JV game 55-34. Duke Blackwell (11 points) and Cody Chandler (10 points) led the Dragons.
Roncalli 51, New Palestine 42
NP — Curry 2-6 0-0 6, So. Haynes 3-7 0-0 6, Sa. Haynes 0-3 0-0 0, Larrabee 0-0 0-0 0, Jonas 0-2 1-2 1, Roach 1-2 0-0 2, Morris 7-15 0-1 19, Cox 4-5 0-1 8. Totals — 17-40 1-4 42.
RO — King 1-6 0-0 2, Prather 2-5 0-0 5, Smock 8-9 0-1 18, Holtkamp 1-5 7-8 10, Boggess 1-2 0-0 2, Clements 5-12 3-3 13, Stretch 0-0 1-2 1. Totals — 18-39 11-14 51.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
NP (9-4) 13 8 7 14 — 42
RO (7-5) 12 6 15 18 — 51
Three-pt. field goals: NP 7-19 (Curry 2-6, So. Haynes 0-2, Sa. Haynes 0-1, Morris 5-9). RO 4-8 (King 0-2, Prather 1-2, Smock 2-3, Holtkamp 1-2).
Rebounds: NP 24 (Curry 2, So. Haynes 2, Larrabee 2, Jonas 3, Roach 8, Morris 3, Cox 4), RO 18 (King 3, Smock 5, Holtkamp 2, Boggess 4, Clements 4). Assists: NP 11 (Curry 1, So. Haynes 2, Sa. Haynes 4, Morris 3, Jonas 1), RO 11 (King 5, Smock 4, Holtkamp 1, Clements 1). Steals: NP 2 (Morris 1, Cox 1), RO 4 (Smock 1, Holtkamp 2, Clements 1). Blocks: NP 2 (Cox 1, So. Haynes 1), RO 3 (Holtkamp 1, Boggess 1, Clements 1). Total fouls: NP 12, RO 8. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: NP 14, RO 8.
Roncalli 55, New Palestine 34
NP — Blackwell 11, Chandler 10, Hickman 5, Farley 3, Hiland 3, Lytle 2.