NEW PALESTINE — They’d been down this road before.
Tight game, late, the New Palestine boys’ basketball team, for the most part, finds a way to win.
They did it again Tuesday.
After a missed front end of a one-and-bonus free throw by Guerin Catholic’s Bryson Cardinal with 21.1 seconds remaining and the Golden Eagles leading 64-63, New Palestine senior guard Blaine Nunnally went coast-to-coast for a lay-in to give the Dragons the lead.
He was fouled, but missed the free throw. Cardinal got the rebound and Guerin Catholic’s Lucas Parker missed an attempt on a deep 3-pointer. Dragon senior Ian Stephens grabbed the carom, was fouled, and hit two free throws with 1.8 seconds to help secure New Palestine’s 67-64 win at New Palestine High School.
The Dragons are ranked No. 10 in both the Associated Press Class 4A poll and the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll (all classes). New Palestine is 17-1 after Tuesday’s win.
It was the third close encounter in the team’s last three games. A 12-0 run in the final three minutes erased a deficit in a 60-53 win over Yorktown on Jan. 27. The Dragons fell just short in a 59-58 decision on Jan. 30 against Lawrence North.
Earlier in the season, Nunnally led a fourth-quarter comeback to win the Lebanon Holiday Tournament and, in the same tournament, sophomore Julius Gizzi hit free throws with time expired to beat Indianapolis Metropolitan.
On Tuesday, the Dragons faced their biggest halftime deficit since trailing by five at Greenfield-Central on Dec. 9.
On the short end of a 33-28 score at the break, New Palestine outscored Guerin Catholic 19-12 in the third quarter and led by as much as seven in the final period, but the Golden Eagles had some comeback in them, too.
Guerin guard Kamera Chandler scored seven of his 16 points in the final 1:30 to give the visitors a 64-63 lead. When the Dragons didn’t convert after a Chandler three-point play with 37.8 seconds remaining, they were forced to foul Cardinal with just 21.1 to go.
“I saw their big man (6-foot-5 Cardinal) reach in (after I got the ball), so I knew they didn’t have any basket protection,” Nunnally said. “I knew if I could get it and go, with him having to back-pedal, it was all about me being able to finish.”
Finding a way to win doesn’t mean all is good in Dragon Country. Nunnally said the team has to start playing better and get back to what got them to the best start in school history, winning the program’s first 15 games.
“We have to defend better,” he said. “They hit some tough shots, but we have to get back to how we were playing at the start of the year, with energy and the pace we were playing. We were putting up 80 points in games just by playing defense. We talked about that at halftime. They were out-working us. It’s all about heart and our senior leadership.”
On Tuesday, Stephens led the way with 23 points. Nunnally had 16. Off the bench, sophomore Gizzi sparked the Dragons with 17, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
The Golden Eagles were playing without two starters, guard Jack Cherry and 6-foot-7 Dylan Murans. They dropped to 12-8 on the season. Parker led Guerin with 19 points. Roberts Sorensen joined in double figures with 14.
“Overall, our kids did what they had to do and got the win,” New Palestine coach Trent Whitaker said. “I ended the (first) half a little frustrated with an official and got my technical (foul). Sometimes that can get the team going and at halftime that kind of continued. I felt (Guerin) out-worked us a bit and that’s something we pride ourselves on to not get out-worked. I brought up (the) Yorktown (game). They did the same thing to us in the first half.”
The Dragons return to Hoosier Heritage Conference play Friday at Shelbyville.
New Palestine 67 , Guerin Catholic 64
Guerin Catholic (12-8): Lucas Parker 7 2-2 19, Ty Sanders 2 1-2 5, Bryson Cardinal 3 1-2 8, Robert Sorensen 4 5-7 14, Kamera Chandler 6 3-3 16, Josh Holba 0 0-0 0, Andy Caron 1 0-0 2, Kyle Shadoan 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 12-16 64.
New Palestine (17-1): Ian Stephens 7 7-8 23, Eian Roudebush 1 0-0 2, Ben Slagley 4 1-1 9, Bryant Nunnally 0 0-0 0, Blaine Nunnally 7 1-5 16, Moses Haynes 0 0-0 0, Julius Gizzi 6 0-0 17, Kendall Hill 0 0-0 0. Totals: 25 9-14 67.
3-point goals: Guerin Catholic 6 (Parker 3, Cardinal, Sorensen, Chandler); New Palestine 8 (Gizzi 5, Stephens 2, Bl. Nunnally)