NEW PALESTINE — Mike Broughton knew New Palestine’s Michael Morris could play basketball.
But what he saw on tape of the 6-foot-6 senior swingman couldn’t have prepared Jennings County for what happened Wednesday night. Morris scored 16 of his career-high 37 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Dragons to a 58-55 season-opening win.
“That kid was good,” Broughton said. “We tried to double him late. We had practiced against a couple things, but we were taking plays that they ran a year ago in the regional and a year ago during the season, so we were trying to mix and match. We knew he was a good player, but we didn’t know he was that good of a player.”
Morris went 11-of-18 from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. He scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to lift New Pal from a 36-33 deficit to a 42-36 lead.
“We begged him to shoot more, so there’s a lot of people in the crowd that were shocked that he would shoot that many times,” New Palestine coach Adam Barton said. “That’s what we’ve been begging him to do for the last three years, so that’s a little coming out party for him.”
All three of Morris’ 3-pointers came in the fourth quarter, the first of which tied the game at 36 with 7:51 left. That’s when things got interesting.
Morris went in for a layup and had it blocked by Jennings’ 5-9 Johnny Scruggs. But Scruggs was whistled for an intentional foul, and Broughton was assessed a technical while arguing the call. Morris made three of the four free throws, then hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
“That was kind of the difference in the game,” Broughton said. “But I’m pretty pleased with them. I’ve only got to work with them eight practices. We played hard, and we’ll see if we’re tough enough to do that kind of stuff on a regular basis.”
The Panthers got as close as 52-50 on a 3-pointer by Dan Leach with 2:02 remaining, but the Dragons got a basket and four free throws to push the lead to eight before Jennings’ Bailey Sanders scored five points in the game’s final eight seconds.
Brad Hunt, a 6-9 junior, led the Panthers with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Caleb Eder added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Sanders finished with 10 points.
Jennings connected on only 2 of 16 3-pointers and 11 of 19 free throws.
“We have to shoot it better,” Broughton said. “We missed layups and free throws.”
The Panthers turned the ball over only three times in the first half and nine for the game.
“We turned it over a lot in the scrimmage game, and we worked hard the last couple days on that, and I thought we did a lot better,” Broughton said. “But we have to take a few more chances to get the ball pushed down the court. I’d rather make a few more turnovers and push it a little harder than we did today.”
Jennings outrebounded New Pal 42-36. The Panthers held the 6-11 Seth Cox to one point and five rebounds.
“I was very impressed with Jennings County in the first and second quarter because I thought they outworked us, and I don’t think our kids get outworked very often,” Barton said. “They beat us to the boards, and it kind of frazzled us on the offensive end. Their hard work on one end kind of messed us up mentally on the other end.”
“I’m pretty proud of them,” Broughton said. “You hate to lose. I just hope that they’re not satisfied with this because we have a lot of tough ones.”