NEW PALESTINE — Dragons first-year head coach Trent Whitaker knew Center Grove would be quick and athletic. Preparing for that speed, however, is easier said than done.
After taking a 12-11 advantage into the second quarter, the Trojans outscored New Palestine 22-11 before halftime to secure a 60-42 season-opening road win Friday.
Center Grove, which beat the Dragons 68-54 last season, has now won five straight against New Palestine, although it was the first under Whitaker, who said the Trojans’ pace of play is hard to prepare for.
“They played very well together,” he said. “It’s one of those things, in practice, we haven’t seen that (speed), and you can’t duplicate it. That’s the first time we’ve seen it since our scrimmage. We’ll fix that.”
Freshman Trayce Jackson David (6-foot-6) led Center Grove with 14 points and five rebounds, 12 of which came in the first half.
Junior guard Jalen Qualkinbush reached double figures for the second-straight game and registered a team-high 13 points for New Palestine. Senior Caleb Vanderwal nailed two 3-point field goals and finished with eight.
Playing in their first game with a full roster after each football program made deep runs in the state tournament, New Palestine (1-1) and Center Grove (1-0) needed time to get back in full swing Friday as the opening quarter was mildly sloppy at best.
The Trojans found their touch in the second, however, with eight points coming from Jackson-Davis to take a 33-22 lead at halftime.
“Center Grove did a nice job going on a run, they were on fire in the second quarter,” Whitaker added. “The second quarter we missed some bunnies. We had some good looks underneath that didn’t fall. We just need to finish in the paint and be a little bit stronger.”
The Dragons managed just one field goal in the pivotal second stanza as the Trojans scored eight.
After winning the third quarter 10-6, Center Grove opened the fourth quarter with two bombs from deep, forcing New Palestine to call a timeout with the score at 49-28. The Dragons could never catch up.
Senior Cody Long was held to just four points against the Trojans after scoring 19 in the season-opening rout of Jennings County.
Center Grove lost seven seniors from last year’s 13-10 squad as Bryce Brown (6.0 pgg) and Trevor Harrell (4.0 ppg) were the only players returning with significant playing experience. Harrell, a senior, finished with 13 points and five steals.
New Palestine finished 4-of-10 from behind the arc and 10-of-17 (59 percent) from the charity stripe. Center Grove finished 7-of-17 (42 percent) from deep and 10-of-11 from the line. The Trojans won the rebound battle 30-20.
The Dragons return to action at Rushville tonight as Center Grove heads home to host Bloomington South. Both games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.