NEW PALESTINE — In New Palestine’s season-opening 58-55 win over Jennings County on Nov. 21, Michael Morris showcased his scoring ability with a career-high 37 points.
Saturday night, New Castle decided to make Morris’ teammates beat them.
Morris proved to be a willing passer (career-high six assists) while his comrades were capable scorers (43 points), and the host Dragons dispatched the Trojans 59-50.
NP coach Adam Barton garnered his first career win against New Castle, whose previous defeat to the Dragons came on Nov. 29, 2003.
New Palestine moved to 2-0 for the first time since the 1997-98 season, in part because it has taken on the Trojans — who have won 15 or more games in all but two of their past 15 campaigns — in either its first or second game in every season since 2000.
“It’s one of those big-name wins, even if it’s early. People are like, ‘Why are you still playing them?’” said Barton of his program continuing to schedule New Castle. “But it’s a different style of basketball and we get to see things that we may see later in the year.”
The six-foot-6 Morris tallied just two points in the opening 16 minutes against the Trojans. But it was his newfound passing ability — in addition to the shooting of Justin Ikerd — that sprung the home team to an early lead.
On the first possession of the game, Dragon point guard Solomon Haynes wound up on his rear end under the basket. Yet, he kept his cool and dished to a wide-open Ikerd, who sunk his 3-point attempt.
“We knew once that happened it was going to be a good night,” said Morris of Haynes’ unlikely assist. “Coming into it, I was expecting them to double-team me and I was going to find the open man.
“Luckily, my team was hitting shots and picking us up.”
Following a Morris jumper, Ikerd buried back-to-back treys off feeds from Morris. Another triple by Ikerd, coupled with a buzzer-beating, off-balance 3 from Samson Haynes, netted New Palestine a 17-7 advantage after a quarter.
Steven Bennett and Korey Ryan combined for the Trojans’ 14 second quarter points to keep the game close, but the Dragons were still ahead 30-21 at the break.
Morris tallied his final two assists on screen-and-roll sets with Brandon Jonas and Connor Roach to begin the third quarter.
Bennett and Ryan scored six points apiece to close New Castle’s deficit to 40-38 at the end of the third quarter, forcing Morris to switch into scoring mode.
Morris, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds, scored on four consecutive possessions to swell NP’s lead from 43-42 to 51-44. He was whistled for a technical foul shortly thereafter, but the Trojans’ chances for a comeback were dimmed when Bennett missed both freebies.
New Palestine closed out the game with two layups by Solomon Haynes and 4-of-5 shooting from the free-throw line.
Dragons not named Morris finished 16-of-35 from the field, a stark contrast to their 6-of-25, 21-point performance versus Jennings County.
“People are looking at our first two tapes and they just saw what Mike did in Game 1 and they saw what everybody did tonight,” offered the eighth-year coach. “I think we just became difficult to defend.”
Barton’s squad was on-point defensively against a high ball screen-reliant Trojan offense, limiting New Castle to 17-of-48 shooting — including 3-of-23 from 3 — and outrebounding the visitors 35-17.
“I was pretty happy with how we contested shots. We were not real tough (vs. Jennings County) boxing out,” Barton explained. “I thought today we hit them early and they didn’t go to the boards after that. We were very fundamental on our box outs.”
Barton joked that the six helpers were a “world record” for Morris, who responded sarcastically by noting that his half-dozen assists were more than his 2011-12 total. (He actually had 19).
Also on display against New Castle was the continued, uncomplicated evolution of Morris’ scoring capabilities.
“Last year I was more of a shooter. This year I’ve expanded my game a little bit to be more of a shooter and a driver,” Morris said. “I guess when they put a big man on me, I go out to the wing more, and when they put a smaller guy on me, I get in the post.”
Notes: The Dragons visit sectional host Center Grove (1-1) Friday. … Jonas finished with seven points, seven rebounds, and sank a three to beat the halftime buzzer. .. Solomon Haynes added seven points, six rebounds and three assists. … Ryan (21 points) and Bennett (17) paced New Castle, who relied on its starters until Ryan Perdue checked in with 6:13 left in the fourth quarter. … The Trojans won the JV game 40-23. Duke Blackwell and Taylor Hiland paced NP with six points apiece.
New Palestine 59, New Castle 50
NC — Bennett 5-21 7-9 17, Ryan 7-16 6-7 21, Goolsby 2-3 0-0 4, Orr 1-3 0-0 3, Haler 2-5 0-0 5, Perdue 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 17-48 13-16 50.
NP — Morris 5-13 5-6 16, Ikerd 4-10 0-0 12, Jonas 3-3 0-0 7, Curry 1-4 2-2 5, So. Haynes 3-7 1-2 7, Sa. Haynes 2-5 1-2 6, Cox 2-3 0-0 4, Roach 1-2 0-0 2, Larrabee 0-1 0-0 0. Totals — 21-48 9-13 59.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
NC (1-1) 7 14 17 12 — 50
NP (2-0) 17 13 10 19 — 59
Three-pt field goals: NC 3-23 (Bennett 0-8, Ryan 1-8, Orr 1-3, Haler 1-4), NP 7-17 (Morris 0-1, Ikerd 4-8, Jonas 1-1, Curry 1-4, So. Haynes 0-1, Sa. Haynes 1-2).
Rebounds: NC 17 (Bennett 6, Ryan 3, Goolsby 5, Orr 2, Perdue 1), NP 35 (Morris 7, Jonas 7, Curry 1, So. Haynes 6, Sa. Haynes 3, Cox 7, Roach 2, Larrabee 2). Assists: NC 4 (Bennett 3, Ryan 1), NP 11 (Morris 6, Jonas 1, So. Haynes 3, Sa. Haynes 1). Steals: NC 2 (Ryan 1, Perdue 1), NP 2 Ikerd 1, So. Haynes 1). Blocks: NC 0, NP 3 (Ikerd 1, Cox 1, Roach 1). Total fouls: NC 12, NP 14. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: NC 8, NP 9.
New Castle 40, New Palestine 23
NP — Lytle 3, Hickman 3, Blackwell 6, Hiland 6, Riley 2, Chandler 2, Kuhn 1