NEW PALESTINE — The number of undefeated boys basketball teams in the state has shrunk to one.
New Palestine, ranked No. 8 in both the Class 4A Associated Press poll and Indiana Basketball Coaches Association (all classifications) rankings, had its 15-game winning streak – the longest to start a season in school history – come to a halt Monday at New Palestine High School.
The Dragons led the entire first half and much of the third quarter, but couldn’t hang on in a 59-58 loss to perennial state-power Lawrence North, No. 15 in the IBCA poll.
Lawrence North took its first lead with 1:33 remaining in the third period. The Dragons tied it four times and took a lead, 51-50 with just over two minutes left in the game, on a conventional three-point play from sophomore post player Ben Slagley.
The Wildcats answered with a bucket from Kobi Bowles for a 52-51 LN advantage with 1:59 remaining.
New Palestine cut it to one, 57-56, with one minute left, on a steal and bucket from senior Ian Stephens.
Lawrence North went up three on two Myles Baker free throws. A baseline Stephens’ 3 to try to tie it missed and Julius Gizzi scored on the putback for the final points.
“We wanted to win that game so bad,” Stephens, who led the Dragons with 14 points, said. “But, we have to know, and the younger guys have to know, we’re growing still. The season is still very young. Growth is not a steady path. You’re going to have some dips and some falls, but we have to bounce back.
“Obviously, you don’t want to lose, but it could be good for us.”
Lawrence North (13-3) has won three straight. Its last loss was a 62-40 decision to Ben Davis in the Marion County Tournament championship game. Ben Davis, is ranked No. 1 in the state, and after Monday night, the lone unbeaten team in the state.
The Wildcats won without their top player. Sophomore guard Azavier Robinson, who averages 18 points per game, did not play.
Without Robinson, Lawrence North did not rely on any one player to take his spot. The Wildcats had eight different players score, led by Bowles with a game-high 15. Off the bench, Baker had 14 points. He scored 12 in the second half, including seven in the final quarter.
The Dragons had four players score in double figures.
Following Stephens, Blaine Nunnally scored 12 before fouling out with 36 seconds remaining. Slagley and Moses Haynes each had 10 points.
It was a career-high for sophomore Haynes. Eight of his points, including a pair of 3s, came in the first half.
New Palestine senior Eian Roudebush scored off a steal in the first 30 seconds of the game. The Dragons led for the remainder of the first half, and by as much as 10 points, 20-10 with 5:36 left until intermission.
“We put them on the schedule for a reason,” New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker said of the first-ever meeting between the Dragons and Wildcats. “That’s a team that has a style of play we’re going to see in tournament time. There are some great teams in our sectional, Anderson, Mt. Vernon, Greenfield. We’re going to see teams that play that way.
“That’s why you schedule a team that’s ranked in the Top 20 in the state. We’re not afraid of them. I thought we went toe-to-toe with them. We just didn’t make the plays down the stretch. They made just one more.”
New Palestine will hope to start another streak Thursday when they travel to Perry Meridian (3-12) for another non-conference game.
“That (record) means a lot to us,” Stephens said of the school-record winning streak to start a season. “That gym was crazy. That makes us so happy and so proud to be playing for who we are.
“We don’t feel like we’re letting them down. We want to win in front of them, but we have to figure out that losing is part of it. That’s how winners are made. You’re down. You’re trying to get back up and figure out what’s wrong. We’ll see how we respond Thursday. That’ll be a big game for us coming back and trying to respond to this.”
Lawrence North 59, New Palestine 58
Lawrence North (13-3): Ty Cunningham 2 0-1 4, Davion Hampton 1 0-0 2, Mase Hughes 4 0-0 9, Kobi Bowles 7 0-0 15, Miles Good 2 0-0 6, Myles Baker 5 2-2 14, Jacob Eads 0 0-0 0, Brennan Miller 1 0-1 3, Cameron Webster 1 4-4 6. Totals: 23 6-8 59.
New Palestine (15-1): Ian Stephens 6 1-2 14, Eian Roudebush 3 0-0 6, Ben Slagley 4 2-3 10, Bryant Nunnally 1 0-0 2, Blaine Nunnally 2 8-10 12, Julius Gizzi 2 0-0 4, Moses Haynes 3 2-2 10. Totals: 21 13-17 58.
3-point goals: Lawrence North 7 (Good 2, Baker 2, Hughes, Baker, Miller); New Palestine 3 (Haynes 2, Stephens)