NEW PALESTINE — The theme of the evening at New Palestine High School was recognition. And on Friday night, the Dragons boys basketball team made sure they weren’t ignored.
Scorching the visiting Greenwood Woodmen with their red-hot shooting, the Dragons celebrated senior night with a 71-53 victory to wrap up their regular-season schedule.
“They shot the ball extremely well, there’s not question about that,” said Greenwood head coach Bruce Hensley, who was acknowledged prior to the game with retirement approaching at season’s end. “We gave them some good looks, but you still have to make them, and they did, a lot.”
Led by freshman point guard Maximus Gizzi’s team-high 20 points, the Dragons snapped a four-game losing streak by shooting 50 percent from the field.
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Sophomore Matthew True had 16 points and junior Gavin Hausz had 13 off the bench as New Palestine sent their upperclassmen out in style.
“It was contagious. We just kept on hitting our shots. We took that big lead early and that’s what helped us win the game,” said New Palestine senior Jalen Qualkinbush, who finished with eight points and six rebounds. “We stayed confident.”
Initially down 6-0, the Dragons (6-16) used a 7-0 run to pulled ahead and put together a 13-5 run late in the first quarter and early into the second to take the advantage for good.
New Palestine went up 23-16 before the second quarter off a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Gizzi and built a 12-point margin off a mid-range jumper by the rising star.
“We just didn’t get enough stops,” said Hensley whose team dropped to 11-12. “We had opportunities, but defensively, we couldn’t get enough stops where we could get the game back even and put a little more pressure on them.”
The Woodmen charged back late in the second quarter, slicing the deficit to five points off a 3-pointer from Max Raker with 48 seconds left. True, however, reestablished the Dragon’s momentum with a trey before the end of the half.
Eric Moenkhaus had a game-high 21 points for the Woodmen and the team narrowed the gap to five again in the third quarter, but New Palestine never relinquished.
The Dragons shot 58 percent in the first half from the field, and despite a lull to 36 percent in the third, they found ways to score. In the first half, New Palestine went 8 of 13 from beyond the arc and concluded the night 16 of 17 from the free-throw line.
“I thought they played really well,” Hensley said. “I like his team and they’re young. They’ve gotten really better.”
They were opportunistic as well, with True collecting a loose ball during a scramble with seconds remaining in the third quarter before slipping away for an uncontested layup at the horn.
“For 32 minutes, we played very smart tonight,” New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker said. “We played with poise, something we haven’t done in the fourth quarter a lot this year. Today, our kids attacked instead of being passive.”
Prior to the game, the Dragons seniors were spotlighted. They were followed by a standing ovation for 126-pound senior wrestling state champion Alec White during the game. At halftime, the school’s career 1,000-point scorers were all highlighted.
The Dragons, who open Class 3A Sectional 27 on Tuesday at Brebeuf Jesuit against Indianapolis Marshall at 7 p.m., will look to garner more attention as they chase their first sectional since 2012.
“That’s the confidence we want going into sectional play,” Whitaker said after his team 23rd win in 40 meetings with Greenwood. “It was a team win.”