By Paul Gable/For The Daily Reporter
NEW PALESTINE — At 9-4 on the season and 3-1 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference, New Palestine boy’s basketball head coach Trent Whitaker likes where his team stands.
And, why not?
The Dragons posted back-to-back wins to close out last week and have won four of their last five, and have done it with a stingy defense and a balanced scoring attack as of late.
“(Being) 9-4 is a nice record right now. When you play a 22-game schedule, there’s a third of your games that you should win, a third of your games that you shouldn’t win and a third that will be a battle. This will definitely get us ready for the tournament, but I like where we are right now. We control our own destiny, but we have to take care of business. We cannot look ahead, and we have to make sure we focus on what’s next,” said Whitaker after watching his squad knock off Mooresville, 70-54, Saturday at home.
Against the Pioneers, the Dragons definitely took care of business, as senior Steele Brasfield got the offense going, while Blaine Nunnally and Ian Stephens got the defense attacking.
Brasfield led the way for the Dragons with a game-high 26 points, 11 of which came in the first quarter. With the game knotted 2-2, Brasfield drilled a jumper and hit an ensuing free throw to push New Palestine ahead 5-2 that would swell to as much as 15 points in the early moments of the second quarter.
“We knew Mooresville was a good team, and we wanted to set the tone early. I hit some shots early, and when that happened, I wasn’t going to take foot off the gas. Mooresville is a good team, and this was one of our best nights as a team,” Brasfield said.
New Palestine’s stifling defense and Stephens owning the glass proved too much for Mooresville in the third quarter, as the Dragons held Mooresville scoreless for five minutes and outscored the visitors 16-3 in the frame. In addition, Nunnally picked up the scoring load in the quarter, as he scored 8 of his 22 points in the frame.
That was all New Palestine needed, as they were able to coast to a win.
“We came out focused and our defensive effort was there from the get go. Blaine Nunnally did a great job defensively for us,” Whitaker said of the win over Mooresville.
New Palestine’s defense has been something that has really clicked as of late.
Against HHC foe Delta, the Dragons held the Eagles to 32 points, which were the fewest since a 69-32 win over Yorktown in 2017. Five times this season, New Palestine has held opponents to 50 points or less.
“I would say my biggest surprise so far has been the defensive end. We knew we could score with Steele coming back, but they take pride in defense. Blaine and Ian do a really good job on the defensive side, and Blaine has a knack for getting the ball off the glass, as well. Blaine though really gets us going. Then Damon (Hockett) and Bryant (Nunnally) come in and do the dirty work for us,” Whitaker said.
The defensive intensity will have to be there this week as the Dragons take on Roncalli and Franklin at home before traveling to Yorktown.
“We have two really good teams coming up in Roncalli and Franklin. Roncalli is always a battle,” Whitaker noted.
And, while the non-conference games are important, the defense and scoring will have to be there if the Dragons look to continue being a player in the HHC race, where they are currently a game-and-a-half behind Mt. Vernon.
For Brasfield, an HHC season would be a nice way to cap his senior campaign.
“We have to win out. Everyone in that locker room would love to win the conference, and we definitely have the team to do that, but we need to care of what we need to in order for that to happen,” Brasfield said.
Whitaker echoed those sentiments.
“We absolutely have a shot, but we need to take care of ourselves. We have Yorktown and Shelbyville before we get to that Mt. Vernon game, but we would like to have an opportunity to travel to Mt. Vernon and see what happens. It is up to us. We control our destiny,” Whitaker said.
New Palestine 70, Mooresville 54
Mooresville (7-3): Hogan Denny 4 2-2 14, Nick Wiley 4 3-4 11, Nick Patterson 3 4-7 10, Jaxson Nielsen 3 0-1 8, Zach Woodson 2 0-0 4, AJ DeFur 2 0-0 4, Jai Dindiyal 1 0-0 3. Totals: 19 9-14 54.
New Palestine (9-4): Steele Brasfield 10 2-3 26, Blaine Nunnally 7 7-8 22, Ian Stephens 3 2-2 8, Damon Hockett 1 3-4 5, Kendall Hill 1 1-1 3, Jaret Whitaker 1 0-0 2, Eian Roudebush 1 0-0 2, Matthew Barada 0 1-2 1, Moses Haynes 0 1-2 1. Totals: 24 17-21 70.
3-point goals: Mooresville 7 (Denny 4, Nielsen 2, Dindiyal 1); New Palestine 5 (Brasfield 4, Blaine Nunnally 1).