MUNCIE — To get to tonight’s Muncie Central Sectional championship game, the New Palestine Dragons boys basketball team played as advertised on the front of their shooting shirts: Gritty, Not Pretty.

In a low-scoring, physical matchup, where the Dragons had more floor burns than 3-pointers, New Palestine defeated Pendleton Heights 48-35 to reach the 7 p.m. title game of Class 4A Sectional 9 at historic Muncie Fieldhouse.

New Palestine (22-2) will play two-time defending sectional champion and biggest rival Mt. Vernon (16-8) in tonight’s championship contest.

The Dragons shot 45 percent (20 of 44) from the field with most of their offense coming on drives and offensive rebound putbacks. Their only 3-pointer of the game came in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Julius Gizzi hit from deep to give the Dragons a 14-point lead, 39-25, with 5:47 to go.

Friday’s win wasn’t about offense. It came from a strong defense, limiting the Arabians to just one shot on possessions and hitting the boards, on both ends, with relentless effort.

Peeling himself off the floor after getting knocked down on a layup attempt, Blaine Nunnally opened second-half scoring with a pair of free throws. New Palestine senior Eian Roudebush, who scored his share of quarterback keepers during his Dragon football career, drove the lane with the same kind of fervor, scored and drew an and-one. He made the free throw and, just one minute into the second half, the Dragons seven-point halftime lead had grown to 12.

New Palestine had a double-figure lead the remainder of the game.

“That was an absolutely boring basketball game for the fans, but that’s how we play sometimes,” New Palestine coach Trent Whitaker said. “We get after it defensively and our defense is what put us over the top (Friday).

“Our toughness was definitely on display. The tougher basketball team wins a lot of times. We weren’t very skilled (Friday). We had a lot of turnovers and that’s very uncharacteristic of us, but the kids played hard and did exactly what we had to do to get to (the championship game).”

The Dragon defense held the Arabians to just 31 percent shooting from the field (13 of 42) and won the rebound battle 36-24. Ten of the New Pal rebounds came on the offensive end.

New Pal 6-foot-6 senior Ian Stephens had a game-high 12 caroms. Nunnally and Ben Slagley each had seven. Slagley, a 6-4 sophomore, had three offensive rebounds.

Three Dragons scored double figures with Gizzi leading the way with 13. Nunnally had 11 and Slagley finished with 10.

“That’s been our motto all year,” senior guard Bryant Nunnally, part of New Pal’s twin brother starting backcourt, said of the ‘Gritty, Not Pretty’ moniker. “We live by that motto. When you out-physical and out-hustle everybody, you’re going to win 90 percent of your ballgames and we did that (Friday).”

It was the second meeting of the year with the Arabians, a fellow Hoosier Heritage Conference foe from nearby south Madison County. In the regular season meeting in January, the Dragons won 57-41.

The 22nd win for the Dragons, ranked No. 14 in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll, set a single-season school record for wins. The Arabians dropped to 8-17.

“It’s awesome to get (the school record for wins), but the work is not finished,” Bryant Nunnally added. “I think a sectional (championship) means a lot more than a win (record).”

New Palestine is playing for the sectional championship for the fifth time in the last six years. The Dragons won back-to-back titles in 2019 and 2020. They lost in championship games to Mt. Vernon in 2018 and 2022. The 2019 title was against the Marauders. In 2020, the Dragons beat Muncie Central at Muncie Fieldhouse.

New Palestine 48, Pendleton Heights 35

New Palestine;6;15;13;14;—;48

Pendleton Heights;5;9;8;13;—;35

New Palestine (22-2): Eian Roudebush 2 1-1 5, Ian Stephens 1 3-6 5, Ben Slagley 5 0-0 10, Bryant Nunnally 0 0-0 0, Blaine Nunnally 4 3-3 11, Julius Gizzi 6 0-1 13, Moses Haynes 1 0-0 2, Kendall Hill 1 0-0 2, Brady Armstrong 0 0-1 0, Rigg Mahurin 0 0-0 0, Landon Seib 0 0-0 0, Austin McMahan 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 7-12 48.

Pendleton Heights (8-17): Josiah Gustin 3 0-0 6, Evan Mozingo 0 0-0 0, Aaron Cookston 0 1-2 1, Dontrez Braxton 5 1-2 13, Isaac Wilson 4 4-6 12, Caden Sims 0 0-0 0, Reese Caplinger 1 0-0 2, Brayden Kanitz 0 1-2 1, Hunter Suchyna 0 0-0 0, Hayden Fox 0 0-0 0, Chase Eikenberry 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 7-12 35.

3-point goals: New Palestine 1 (Gizzi); Pendleton Heights 2 (Braxton 2)