CHARLOTTESVILLE — Don’t call it an offensive struggle.
It was a defensive dandy.
Nothing came easy at Eastern Hancock High School Friday in a matchup of Hancock County rivals.
New Palestine took the lead late in the fourth quarter, 40-39, on a bucket from Steele Brasfield with 2 mintues, 2 seconds remaining and hung on to beat the host Royals, 44-41.
Both teams evened their overall records at 1-1 apiece.
Neither club hit a field goal — each going 0-for-7 from the field —in the second quarter. Eastern Hancock led 15-11 at the half. Both teams had two points each, by free throws, in the second quarter.
Led by Brasfield, the Dragons were finally able to find ways to score in the second half.
The 6-foot-6 senior committed to Indiana Tech scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the final two quarters. He scored 14 in the fourth period, including his team’s final 11 points.
The Dragons ended the game on an 11-4 run with Brasfield going 5 of 5 from the field.
“We had to stop taking shots the defense wanted us to take. We had to go get our shots,” Brasfield said. “Coach (Trent Whitaker) really got on me at half. I had to go out and do my thing, and if I would take care of that, we would win.
“When Blaine (Nunnally) fouled out that was a lot of scoring taken off the floor. I knew that I had to step up a little bit. We started spacing out their zone more, and I finally started hitting my shots. It was a good way to finish.”
Brasfield hit a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to give New Palestine a 30-27 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Eastern Hancock junior twins Jacob Spaulding and Silas Spaulding, sons of head coach Aaron Spaulding, were able to get the advantage back to the home team. Down 31-27, Silas scored off a nice feed from junior teammate Edric Miller. Jacob followed with the next six points.
The first came on a 3-pointer. The next three were on a conventional three-point play to put the Royals up 35-31.
Silas added another bucket with 4:10 left for a 37-33 EH lead, but Brasfield took over from there.
After going ahead at the 2:02 mark, the Dragons got the ball back, ate some clock then got a bucket from Brasfield with 46 seconds remaining for a 42-39 advantage. The 2-pointer came off a nice assist from Bryant Nunnally.
Eastern’s Landon O’Neal hit a pair of free throws with 15.9 seconds to go to cut it to 42-41. The Royals got the ball back, after a missed Brasfield free throw, with a chance to go ahead, but O’Neal’s 12-footer was short off the rim.
“I thought both teams really guarded well. It was physical. Clean looks on either ends were hard to come by,” Eastern Hancock coach Aaron Spaulding said. “They hit a couple big shots and some things just didn’t break our way in the end.
“It was a really good game. We’ve got to get better. We’re kind of used to being able to do what we want on offense and break people down. They got out and guarded us well. We have to get better when we can’t break people down with the dribble. We have to do a better job moving, screening and creating good shots for each other.”
Ian Stephens followed Brasfield in the scoring column with 10 points, but Brasfield said his 6-5 teammate was key in holding down the Royals, known to be a strong offensive team, especially from the perimeter.
“Our defense was great and it all starts with Ian Stephens. He is our centerpiece to our defense,” Brasfield said. “Our goal was to run them off the 3-point line and make them shoot at the rim and finish over us and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
The Royals shot just 31.8 percent, 14-for-44 from the field. They were just 4-for-14, 28.6 percent, from 3-point range.
After shooting just 23.5 percent in the first half, the Dragons hit 11 of 20 shots in the final two quarters. Brasfield was 8 of 15 for the game (53.3 percent). He hit just 1 of 5 first-half shots.
“They are a great offensive team,” Whitaker said of the Royals. “They are probably going to score over 70 points in over half of their games. We wanted to get a hand up on their shooters and make them finish over the top in the paint. I’m proud of our defensive end.
“We challenged (Steele) at halftime a little bit and he rose to that challenge. He scored 20 in the second half. That’s impressive.”
Jacob Spaulding led Eastern Hancock with 20 points. Silas Spaulding followed with 10. O’Neal had eight points.
“They’re a great 2A team,” Whitaker, who graduated from Eastern Hancock, said. “Any time they can play a 4A school from the county, they get excited for it. I tried to tell our kids they are a good basketball team that has a lot of kids that have played 3-4 years of varsity basketball. We have a lot of respect for them.”
New Palestine is back in action tonight taking on Rushville. It is the Dragons home opener. Eastern Hancock is also in action. The Royals open Mid-Eastern Conference play at Wes-Del.