LEBANON – The New Palestine Dragons experienced a bit of everything during their two-day appearance at the Lebanon Holiday Classic Tournament.
On Tuesday night, the Dragons soared – hitting 90 points for the fourth time since 2000 – behind a career-high 27 points from Ian Stephens to win decisively, 93-62, over Indianapolis Metropolitan.
Less than 24 hours later on Wednesday there was disappointment in the tournament’s semi-finals and a heavy loss to Lebanon, 63-59, in the morning session despite a furious comeback after a 21-point delay.
At the end of the tournament, the Dragons (6-3) regrouped and completed their three-game challenge exactly as it started by winning 63-52 over Evansville North to finish third at 2-1.
“We’ve played 12 quarterfinals here in Lebanon, and we’ve played 10 very, very well,” said New Palestine boys’ basketball head coach Trent Whitaker. “Unfortunately, in the first half against Lebanon here this morning, we’re just not ready to play. We were leading 7-2, but then we took some time. Honestly we had 10 bad minutes but other than that it was a good tournament.
Without the lull in the Dragons’ 10-minute tournament, substantial progress and growth has been made in score, depth and camaraderie, New Palestine senior Steele Brasfield subsequently noted.
“It’s always good to come out of a tournament like this with a winning record. Obviously we wanted to go 3-0 and win it all, but it’s a good time to bond with the team and it creates chemistry. Sometimes even today we’ve shown that we can fill a new role with Ben Slagley getting plenty of minutes this week, ”Brasfield said. “He looked good. He stepped up his training and finally got the chance to play on the pitch, and he showed it.
Slagley, a 6-foot-4-inch freshman, scored four points in Game 1 of the tournament, but continued his college debut with five points against Lebanon and 10 in the third-place game against Evansville North. .
He scored six points in the third quarter against Evansville North as the Dragons built a nine-point lead and increased the margin 10 points in the fourth before winning by 11.
“Ben had his chance this morning and he took advantage of it. The more confidence he gets, the more confidence the kids have in him and the more I trust him, so he will definitely make that leap, ”said Whitaker. “He’s doing a great job.
Stephens’ momentum is gaining ground as he easily surpassed his average of 11.5 points per game.
In Game 1 of the tournament, Stephens, a junior, set a career record while Brasfield, who is averaging 20.2 points per game, added 22 points in the win.
The Dragons’ 93-point performance against Indianapolis Metropolitan marked the program’s highest total since scoring 96 in an enemy victory at the Hoosier Heritage Conference, Shelbyville on February 6, 2015.
“I think we take a lot out of it in a positive more than a negative way because we were 2-1 and beat a good team from Evansville North and a good team from Indianapolis Metropolitan, so we lost little to the Lebanon I think we are coming away with a lot of positives, ”said Stephens.
New Palestinian junior Blaine Nunnally collected 14 points for the Dragons in the quarterfinals of the tournament, burying four 3 points, after missing two games with injury.
Nunnally added a season-high 28 points against Lebanon for a team-high and had 12 points against Evansville North.
“Overall I’m happy with the tournament. Ian Stephens played exceptionally last night and then this afternoon, ”said Whitaker. “Obviously the goal is to win, but the other goal is to get some camaraderie. Children benefit from it. It’s a different atmosphere, and we see teams from all parts of the state.
Stephens was limited to three points against Lebanon, but he rebounded strongly in the Dragons’ last game, posting a record 24 points, including 16 for Brasfield.
Brasfield finished second against Lebanon with 18 points, but those were crucial points, with Lebanon taking a 21-point lead in the second quarter.
New Palestine recorded the first five points of the game, but the Tigers continued 20-5 to lead 20-10 after the first quarter. Jake Burns punctuated the Tigers’ 3-point attack with 24 total points and seven treys.
However, New Palestine fought back and reduced the deficit to three points in the dying seconds with a 27-point fourth quarter, but couldn’t regain the lead.
“Our kids didn’t give up, but unfortunately we got into this situation and they had to fight. But Lebanon has done a great job, ”said Whitaker. “They had a kid who hit seven 3s, and he was 5 of 26 this year, so it’s a career day for this young man. Credit to him.
The Dragons haven’t let the backhand linger for long, a model they’ve consistently featured so far this season.
After their 60-55 season opener to Richmond on November 24, the Dragons have won three in a row in response. After losing 48-37 to HHC rival New Castle – without Nunnally – on December 17, the team defeated Franklin Central in overtime 57-56 on the road on December 18 and won their second straight game on Tuesday against Metropolitan .
“We can take a lot out of it. This game this morning we just weren’t there and not playing well and not playing is the most difficult and got beaten, “said Stephens. “They’re a great team, but we just weren’t playing hard enough. We made sure to come back and we played even harder to win the game (for third place). It was good.
“Blaine is back. He was gone for a few games and we are all starting to come together. We make good adjustments at half-time, and I think everything is moving forward.
The timing is perfect with the Dragons resuming play on January 7 at home against enemy HHC Delta before heading to Southport on January 8 and hosting another conference rival in Pendleton Heights on January 14.
“We are definitely making this shift. Everyone is together. We’ve played a few games together now, so the chemistry is really there. We’re finding our roles with Ian becoming one of our best guys, Blaine is coming back and being healthy, so we’re feeling pretty good right now, ”Brasfield said.
The Dragons are 1-1 in the HHC, which puts them tied for third in the standings with Greenfield-Central and behind New Castle and Yorktown, who are second at 2-1. Mt. Vernon remains undefeated at 3-0. The Dragons’ final HHC game will be at Mt. Vernon on February 18th. They beat Greenfield-Central, 47-43, at home on December 10.
“It’s always a goal for us at the start of the season to win a conference and win a section. It all starts with the regular season. We’ve already dropped one that we think we shouldn’t have dropped so we hardly can lose anymore, ”said Brasfield. “This is our goal. Don’t lose another conference game.