NEW PALESTINE — New Palestine’s boys basketball team ran its school-record best start to 15 games, but it didn’t come without a big scare from the Yorktown Tigers.
The Dragons, ranked No. 8 in the Class 4A Associated Press poll and No. 9 in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association (all classifications) outscored the Tigers 12-0 in the final 3-plus minutes of Friday’s game to get a 60-53 win over their upset-minded Hoosier Heritage Conference foe.
New Palestine is 15-0 and lead the HHC with a 5-0 record. Yorktown dropped to 11-5 and 3-2 in the conference.
Two free throws from Yorktown’s Mason Moulton with 3:45 left in the game gave the Tigers a 53-48 lead, but that would be their final points.
New Pal sophomore guard Moses Haynes hit a 3-pointer with 3:12 to go to start the 12-0 rally. Haynes followed with a deflection on defense that ended up in the hands of 6-foot-6 senior Ian Stephens. He found classmate Blaine Nunnally, who scored, was fouled, and added the three-point play to give the Dragons the lead for good, 54-53 with 2:24 remaining.
Nunnally, as he has so often this season, did his best work in the fourth quarter.
He scored 13 of his 20 in the final period, including all nine of his free-throw attempts. The Dragons outscored the Tigers 18-9 in the fourth quarter. Nunnally had 18 of is 20 in the second half.
“I hate losing,” Nunnally said of how his impressive game goes up another notch in the final period.
The senior guard, the program’s most recent 1,000-point scorer, said it wasn’t the points as much as what he and his teammates did on the other end of the court to turn the game around.
“We started playing defense, finally, for the first time in the game,” Nunnally said. “At a timeout, we emphasized rebounding the ball and toward the end of the game we were doing that well and we found people for easy looks.
“We got a big 3 from Mo that really got us going. Ian Stephens, the first half, was incredible. It was kind of his show in the first half and that’s why we were there in the first half. Then, we just played off the energy of the team and the crowd. We have a wonderful community that comes out and supports us night in and night out. Let’s pack the gym Monday (against Lawrence North).”
Stephens got the Dragons going early. He had 18 of his game-high 22 points in the first half. The Dragons led by five, 33-28, at halftime, but Yorktown had an answer in the third quarter.
Yorktown senior A.J. Dunn had 11 points in the third period. He scored with 3:30 remaining in the period to give Yorktown its first lead of the game, 37-35.
The Tigers had two fourth-quarter six-point leads. The last one was a 50-44 advantage with 6:27 to go.
The Dragons kept hanging around. And, though Stephens and Nunnally combined for 42 of the 60 points, it was the trey from the sophomore Haynes that raised the energy of the team and the Winter Homecoming crowd.
“He hits those in practice a lot,” New Palestine coach Trent Whitaker said of the Haynes’ 3-pointer. “He’s a kid that is very heady. He understands the game. He knocked it down and plays fearless. Honestly, I thought the play of the game was when, after he hit that 3, they ran a little back screen and he read it. Dunn had to bring (the ball) down and he lost it.”
The Dragons made the big plays on both ends in the final minutes.
After a Tiger timeout, following the Dragons regaining the lead, the Dragons forced a quick turnover. Nunnally was fouled and hit both free throws for a 56-53 lead. Yorktown, with 1:21 left, ate over a minute off the clock before calling another timeout.
When play resumed, the Dragons’ pressure, from Stephens and Bryant Nunnally, forced an over-and-back turnover. Blaine Nunnally was later fouled and hit two more free throws for a 58-53 lead with just 11.5 seconds to go.
“It’s a mentality,” Whitaker said of his team’s defensive performance down the stretch. “It was a great environment, Homecoming … It was the little things we took care of in the last three-and-a-half minutes. When it comes to winning time, which is something we talk about, you have to lock down defensively and hit free throws. We did that. It’s something the kids have learned from all year and we’ve done all year. Every single game’s a battle for us.”
The Dragons go back to battle Monday, in a first-ever meeting with perennial Class 4A power Lawrence North (12-3), currently ranked No. 16 in the IBCA poll.
The game was originally scheduled for last Wednesday, but was postponed due to inclement weather.
New Palestine 60, Yorktown 53
Yorktown (11-5, 3-2): Jacob Grim 4 3-4 13, Mason Moulton 0 2-2 2, Garrett Thurman 2 1-2 5, A.J. Dunn 9 2-2 21, Nate Tyler 0 0-0 0, Anson Isaacs 2 0-0 6, Xayden Douglas 1 1-2 3, Peyton Fields 1 0-0 3. Totals: 19 9-12 53.
New Palestine (15-0, 5-0): Ian Stephens 8 3-4 22, Eian Roudebush 0 0-0 0, Julius Gizzi 2 0-0 4, Bryant Nunnally 1 0-0 2, Blaine Nunnally 5 10-10 20, Ben Slagley 2 2-2 6, Moses Haynes 2 0-2 6, Kendall Hill 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 15-18 60.
3-point goals: Yorktown 6 (Grim 2, Isaacs 2, Dunn, Fields); New Palestine 5 (Stephens 3, Haynes 2).