NEW PALESTINE, Ind.
The crowd was raucous, the play was physical and the winner a champion.
The New Palestine High School boys basketball team handed Class 3A No. 1 and county rival Mt. Vernon its first loss of the season 52-51 as the Dragons captured their first Hoosier Heritage Conference title since 2000, and third in school history.
“It was a crazy environment,” New Palestine coach Adam Barton said. “You win a conference championship and all that cool stuff but they will never forget the crowd. They will never forget how loud it was in there.”
It was loud, not just from the New Pal fans but also the large contingent of Marauder supporters. But the noise didn’t faze New Pal sophomore Ryan Curry as he stepped to the line with 4.2 seconds left.
“We shoot those everyday in practice,” Curry said. “It meant a lot that so many fans came out and got to see a great win.”
He sank both free throws to give New Pal a 50-47 lead. With 2.7 seconds left , Mt. Vernon’s C.J. Coleman drew a foul and went to the line for a 1-and-1. He hit the first, but in an effort to get a rebound and putback, he intentionally missed the second. The rimmed out and New Pal took possession .
A quick Marauder foul sent Brandon Jonas to the line with the Dragons up by two and 0.5 seconds left. Like his fellow sophomore did two possessions earlier, he hit both shots and the Dragons were ahead 52-48.
“Those two sophomores stepped to the line in a huge situation; in one of the loudest gyms they will ever play in,” Barton said. “They hit big free throws.”
Coleman took the inbound pass, turned from near the opposite foul line and buried a spectacular — though meaningless — shot as the clock ran out.
“Who knew the last shot was going to go in,” Barton said. “I didn’t see the last shot got in. It didn’t matter so I didn’t look.”
The game was tied 45-45 with 2:05 left when Dragon senior Michael Morris (team-high 19 points) knocked down a 3-pointer . The basket gave him 1,001 point for his career, just the fifth New Pal player to reach that milestone.
But it was Morris’ defense that helped get the Dragons on track early in game. Coleman, Mt. Vernon’s leading scorer, was held scoreless in the first quarter as his team mustered just 6-points.
“He is better going to his right, so I was trying to force him left,” Morris said. “I knew my teammates were there to help. In fourth quarter he got his shots and was hitting them.”
Coleman score 10 of his game-high 22 points during the final eight minutes.
“They (New Pal) know they didn’t play their best basketball (in the game earlier this season),” Mt. Vernon coach Steve Lynch said. “I don’t think we played poorly tonight. I thought they played really well. Both teams played right down to the end.”