Senior-led surge fuels Dragons

NEW PALESTINE — In what both teams hope is the first of two meetings in seven days, New Palestine defeated Greenwood 65-49 on Friday in the boys basketball regular season finale.

The Dragons (11-11) will aim to knock off sectional favorite Center Grove (13-9) Tuesday in the 4A 13 quarterfinals at Whiteland. The winner will face Greenwood (3-20) next Friday in the semifinals.

The Trojans went 7-0 against common sectional foes this season, including a 68-54 win against New Palestine on Dec. 5.

“What they’re doing to people defensively (is a concern),” said New Palestine coach Adam Barton, whose unit used a 17-8 third-quarter blitz to prevail Friday. “They’re a really nice defensive team. They force you into taking contested shots.”

Greenwood (3-20), which hasn’t won since a 45-40 triumph against Edinburgh on Jan. 13, was held to a season-low output in a 57-29 loss to Center Grove Jan. 16. The Woodmen would just as soon take another crack at the Dragons, whom the Woodmen showed glimpses of success against Friday.

Down 7-2 to start the night, Greenwood rallied for a 16-12 lead on eight points from Jeffrey Reynolds. The Woodmen fell behind again, at 29-21, to open the second quarter. Eight points from Spencer Isenthal fueled another rally that cut the Dragons’ halftime advantage to 31-29.

“I thought we competed well all night long,” Greenwood coach Bruce Hensley said. “I told our guys in here after the game that the only thing I felt (New Palestine) did better than us was they shot the ball better. And that was the difference in the game.”

The visitors couldn’t muster a third comeback of the evening. With senior Alec Cook netting eight points to open the second half, the Dragons quickly built a 44-35 advantage and never relinquished control.

Cook, one of five veterans to get a senior night start, finished with a season-high 13 points. Fellow seniors Kevin Riley (21 points), Ryan Curry (11 points), Taylor Hiland (six points) and Ben Farley (five points) added to the victory.

Curry, Hiland and junior Cody Long also combined for 25 rebounds, part of the Dragons’ 33-13 edge on the boards.

“We’ve been talking about being engaged and inspired, and against Whiteland on Tuesday, we were neither engaged or inspired,” Barton said of a 69-54 loss to the Warriors. “And our rebounding numbers showed that. So we talked about that all week: ‘Get to the board, get to the boards.’

“That shows whether you’re paying attention or not. Because, if you have nothing else to do, you might as well and see if you can go in there and get a loose ball. And we did that.”

Isenthal (17 points), a senior, and Reynolds (12 points), a freshman, fueled Greenwood on Friday. Justin Conley, a junior, added 10 points.

The Woodmen are feeling renewed heading into the postseason, their veteran coach believes.

“I feel like we have a chance against anybody,” Hensley added. “Morale is great, and that’s a credit to our leadership. We’ve got really classy seniors.”

Notes: New Palestine won the junior varsity game 57-50. Jalen Qualkinbush led the Dragons with 20 points. … Greenwood ended New Palestine’s season a year ago with a 60-58 sectional quarterfinal win. Franklin Central (5-13) is the defending Sectional 13 champ. … The New Palestine football team was presented its Class 4A state championship rings (made by Jostens) Friday, as well as a national ranking trophy by MaxPreps and the Army National Guard. … Curry has 1,044 career points, ranking third all-time on the New Palestine scoring chart behind Tom Giles (1,285) and Kent Raymond (1,134).