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Nowhere to Run: Arabian defense stifles Dragons

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NEW PALESTINE — Pendleton Heights put on a defensive clinic Friday at New Palestine. Unfortunately for the Dragons, the price of admission was an end to an 11-game conference win streak.

In a 45-36 victory, the Arabians held defending Hoosier Heritage Conference champ New Palestine to 38 percent shooting and its lowest total output in more than three years.

“Their defense is good,” NP coach Adam Barton said. “That’s the key to the whole show. I had our younger kids in here (after the game) and I just said, ‘That’s how you play defense. That’s why you go through shooting drills at full speed because occasionally somebody will D you up like Pendleton Heights just did.’”

Each squad’s defense was equally adept for most of the contest; Pendleton Heights shot 19 percent from 3-point range and held a slim 36-32 advantage with two minutes, 31 seconds remaining.

New Palestine junior guard Ryan Curry, the squad’s leading scorer this season, drove the lane and sank a physically contested layup. A foul was called on the play — a charge on Curry. If the Arabians had been whistled and Curry converted a 3-point play, PH’s lead would have been sliced to 36-35. Instead, the Arabians (8-3, 3-0 HHC) took care of the basketball the rest of the way and forced the Dragons (6-3, 2-1 HHC) to foul to stop the clock. PH converted 9-of-15 free throws over the final stages to seal the victory.

“It was a big call,” Barton said of the charge on Curry. “It was nice to see him going hard to the basket right there. It could have gone either way, and I jumped on the officials a little bit because I thought we were getting abused in the post most of the game; thought maybe they would give us that one, but that didn’t happen.”

The Dragons hung with the Arabians most of the night despite a rough outing for Curry, who finished with six points — 14 points off his season average.

“They just went completely out of rotation on him, put a nose in his chin,” Barton said of Pendleton Heights and coach Brian Hahn’s focus on Curry. “And we didn’t screen very well.”

Down 10-5 at the end of the first quarter, New Palestine turned to Brandon Jonas, who outscored the Arabians 10-1 to open the third quarter. Those 10 points accounted for all but one of Jonas’ team-best game total.

Pendleton Heights was ahead 21-20 at the break and 32-28 at the end of the third quarter.

“I thought we did a nice job defensively on them, the way they usually shoot the ball,” Barton said. “We held them to 20 percent from 3-point range and I told the kids all week, ‘If they’re scoring inside it’s my fault. Scouting report-wise we’re going to take away the 3-point shot,’ and I think we did that pretty well.

“And they did a nice job of hitting their free throws and slipping inside.”

Sophomore guard Kenton Dunham led PH with 13 points and Sean McDermott had 11 points. The duo was only 2-of-7 from long range, and the Arabians were 3-of-16 as a team. But, the Dragons were even worse from outside at 1-of-10.

In handing New Palestine its first HHC loss since a 64-53 setback at Yorktown on Jan. 27, 2011, Pendleton Heights took control of the HHC race at 3-0. Yorktown is 2-0 in conference and Shelbyville is 1-0.

The Dragons, who won the conference title at 7-0 a year ago, are still in contention for another title, Barton believes.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “We obviously have to win out from here because I don’t think two losses is going to do it. We’re going to have to win out and we’re going to have to get some help from Yorktown to knock off Pendleton. And Pendleton’s got Shelbyville (today), they could put up a lot of points.”

Each HHC squad will play only six conference games this season due to Rushville’s move to another league. New Castle will join the HHC next season and make it an eight-team conference again.

It was a conference game that marked New Palestine’s previous sub 37-point effort. The Dragons lost 51-35 at Greenfield-Central on Dec. 10, 2010.

“We should score more than 36 points …,” Barton said.  “I don’t make our kids defend that hard in practice I guess … and we didn’t shoot the ball very well because of that.”

Notes: Seth Cox had five points and nine rebounds for the Dragons. Connor Roach had eight rebounds. … Levi Buck and Austin Brizendine had seven rebounds apiece for the Arabians. … PH leads the all-time series vs. New Palestine, 17-11. The Dragons had won three straight at home against the Arabians. … Pendleton Heights won the JV game 43-37 despite 17 points from NP sophomore Logan Duffy.

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