NEW PALESTINE — Ian Stephens got things started and Blaine Nunnally finished it off.

The Dragon senior veterans scored 23 points apiece in New Palestine’s 62-53 victory over Hancock County rival Eastern Hancock at New Palestine High School Friday.

“We love the game,” Stephens, a three-year varsity player and two-year starter, said. “It comes in handy toward the late-game situations. If stuffs not going my way, or stuffs not going (Blaine’s) way, we can give it to each and rely on each other to get to the rim, get some foul shots or do whatever.”

Behind the 6-foot-6 Stephens, who had 10 first-quarter points, which included a 3-pointer and two dunks, the Dragons’ opening period lead grew to as much as 12 points.

As expected, Eastern Hancock, ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press Class 2A poll, battled back. The Royals cut it to four by halftime, 29-25, and had a brief lead in the third.

“We probably came out and were a little passive defensively and let them get out. That’s on me, I didn’t want to get us spread out too much, but I think that was a mistake starting off,” Eastern Hancock coach Aaron Spaulding said of the club’s early game plan. “All night long, and I want to credit (New Palestine’s) defense, we didn’t shoot real well. They were doing a nice job guarding. They’ve got a good team.”

The resilient Dragons regained the lead and held off the Royals behind a 13-point fourth quarter from Nunnally, who finished things off by hitting 5 of 6 fourth-quarter free throws.

Along with knocking down freebies, Nunnally scored a pair of early buckets to get the host’s lead back to seven points. A four-year veteran point guard, the Dragons moved Nunnally from the perimeter to the middle of the Royals zone defense. Both buckets were on strong drives to the basket.

He added another fourth-period hoop off a steal. His final field goal put the Dragons up nine, 57-48 with 1:23 remaining.

“They made a nice adjustment (on our zone),” coach Spaulding added. “They were getting the ball in the middle when they put (Nunnally) in the middle. He really attacked and had a great game. (New Palestine coach) Trent (Whitaker) did a nice job of adjusting to what we were doing. It was a good game.”

Known for being a strong perimeter shooting team, Eastern Hancock was held to just 7 of 25 shooting from 3-point range.

Whitaker praised another Nunnally, Blaine’s twin brother, Bryant Nunnally for a strong defensive performance in having a hand in the Royals woes from behind the arc.

“Bryant was a big piece for us defensively,” Whitaker said. “He did an outstanding job on (Jacob) Spaulding. They’re a good basketball team. They can shoot it. They can drive it. You can’t leave anybody. We have a lot of kids locked into their roles. Bryant’s role is to defend and he takes pride in that.”

The Royals did hit a pair of key 3s to start the second half. Sophomore Kayden Ruble and Jacob Spaulding each hit from long range to completely erase what was once a 12-point ballgame.

Jacob Spaulding, a 6-foot guard, put the Royals ahead, going one-on-one against Stephens to give Eastern a short-lived 33-31 advantage with 3:19 remaining in the third.

The Dragons answered when sophomore Ben Slagley scored inside and was fouled by Ruble. He hit the free throw to put the Dragons back in the lead, 34-33. They didn’t trail again, but weren’t able to put one of Class 2A’s top programs away until the final few minutes.

“We just settled down,” Stephens said. “We can make a run and when they made their run we had to stay calm and answer. Their zone was so expanded and wide. We had to get in the middle and stop and slow down for a bit.”

Jacob Spaulding led Eastern Hancock with 16 points. Edric Miller followed with 13. Silas Spaulding, Jacob’s twin brother, had nine.

“This is really good for us to play a high-caliber (Class 4A) team, especially early in the year,” coach Spaulding added. “To compete against really good players is a good test for us and something we needed.”

Following Stephens and Blaine Nunnally, New Palestine sophomore Moses Haynes scored six points.

New Palestine (2-0) returns to action tonight at Rushville. Eastern Hancock (1-1) plays host to Wes-Del tonight in its first Mid-Eastern Conference game of the season.

New Palestine 62, Eastern Hancock 53

Eastern Hancock;9;16;13;15;—;53

New Palestine;21;8;14;19;—;62

Eastern Hancock (1-1): Edric Miller 4 5-7 13, Grant Gray 3 0-0 8, Kayden Ruble 1 0-0 3, Silas Spaulding 3 3-4 9, Jacob Spaulding 6 0-0 16, Luke Morris 1 2-2 4. Totals: 18 10-13 53.

New Palestine (2-0): Ian Stephens 9 4-5 23, Eian Roudebush 1 0-0 3, Ben Slagley 2 1-1 5, Bryant Nunnally 0 0-0 0, Blaine Nunnally 8 5-6 23, Julius Gizzi 1 0-1 2, Moses Haynes 2 0-0 6, Kendall Hill 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 10-13 62.

3-point goals: Eastern Hancock 7 (J. Spaulding 4, Gray 2, Ruble); New Palestine 6 (Bl. Nunnally 2, Haynes 2, Stephens, Roudebush).