NEW PALESTINE — The New Palestine boys basketball team will join in the holiday hoops fun today as the Dragons host their own four-team tournament beginning at 10 a.m.
In the first contest, New Palestine plays Beech Grove, followed by a battle between Decatur Central and Class 3A No. 10 Tri-West at noon. The consolation game will follow at 2 p.m., with the championship contest scheduled for 4 p.m.
The No. 10 Bruins (5-1) appear to be the early favorite on paper, but Decatur Central (3-5) has a few solid wins of its own, including a 57-48 win against Mt. Vernon, which recently has received votes in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll.
The Dragons (2-5) and Hornets (2-5) should provide plenty of excitement in the first contest, as well, as both squads are eager to put their respective losing streaks behind them.
And with the high school boys basketball season just over a third of the way complete, the New Palestine tournament should provide coaches and teams a solid glimpse of where they stand and what improvements need to be made moving forward.
The Dragons have yet to find their rhythm early this season, but with three talented teams visiting today, New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker views the tournament as a chance to compete like it’s the most important time of the year — the postseason.
“We’re going into it looking at another opportunity to win a championship,” the first-year head coach said. “We look to win and extend the season a little bit. This will be the first opportunity to play at 10 a.m. like a regional contest (would be).”
After winning two of their first three games, the Dragons have dropped four straight contests. One player who will be instrumental in getting the team out of its funk, according to Whitaker, is senior forward Cody Long, who leads New Palestine in scoring at 11 points per game.
“Cody Long needs to play well for us this weekend if we want to wins two games,” Whitaker said.
Long also leads the team with 5.4 rebounds per game while junior guard Jalen Qualkinbush averages 9.7 ppg and 2.7 rpg. Senior guard Logan Duffy contributes 5.7 ppg.
Led by that trio, Whitaker has seen flashes of what the Dragons are capable of this season, although he would just like to see that play on a more consistent basis.
“We go through stretches where we play pretty well,” he said. “We want to build off that.”
What New Palestine lacks in size, it makes up for in shooting. The team has hit 44 3-point field goals this season between eight different players. Sophomore Gavin Hausz leads the Dragons with nine makes from behind the arc, while Duffy and freshman Dylan Romine each have seven.
The Hornets bring one of the youngest rosters into the New Palestine tournament today with hopes of building on its 2-5 record.
Whitaker said although Beech Grove may not be the biggest team on their schedule, the Hornets’ athleticism could cause problems. However, the team sports the lowest Sagarin rating of all teams at today’s tournament.
“Beech Grove is very well-coached,” Whitaker said. “They will most likely run a zone against us, and we will have to shoot the ball pretty well.”
Three underclassmen lead the team in scoring, with only two seniors currently logging minutes.
Sophomore guard Kenny Washington (13.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg), junior guard Dylan Allen (13.3 ppg, 2.7 spg) and junior forward Chris Feely (9.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg) should keep the Dragons busy, though.
One area the Hornets particularly struggle from is behind the arc. The team is only shooting 33 percent from deep with 16 total 3-point field goals made through seven games.
Tri-West is off to another hot start this season after spending much of 2014 ranked in their respective class. With only one loss this season and plenty of scoring power, the Bruins will be a tough out.
“Tri-West is very, very good,” Whitaker said. “They’re one of those teams you don’t want at your tournament.”
The team’s only loss came to Class 3A No. 1 Park Tudor on Dec. 12, 48-46.
Tri-West is averaging nearly 70 ppg and is led by a smooth sophomore guard in Tyler Watson, who averages 17.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 2.8 spg. Junior forward Peyton Hendershot (13.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and junior forward Cameron Cole (11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg) anchor an athletic Bruins frontcourt.
As a team, Tri-West is shooting 46 percent from two-point range and 69 percent from the free-throw line.
Decatur Central might be the toughest team to judge entering today’s tournament. Although the Hawks have just two victories, the team did notch the aforementioned signature win over Mt. Vernon.
The Marauders are currently 8-1, making Decatur Central a team oppositions should not take lightly.
“Mt. Vernon is obviously very good,” Whitaker said. “I think their team (Decatur Central) is up and down, and their record doesn’t show how they can play.”
Senior guard Antoine Divine leads the team with more than 22 ppg and is one of only three seniors listed on the youthful Hawks’ roster. He also dishes out a team-high 2.8 apg.
Sophomores Damani McEntire (12.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Khiree Williams (9.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg) add scoring and rebounding depth despite being underclassmen.
Decatur Central lost three games in a row until a recent win against Trotwood-Madison out of Ohio.
Game 1: New Palestine vs. Beech Grove, 10 a.m.
Game 2: Decatur Central vs. Tri-West, noon
Consolation: 2 p.m.
Championship: 4 p.m.
Record: 2-5, 0-2 in Hoosier Heritage Conference
Head Coach: Trent Whitaker, 2-5 in first year at school
Averages: 50.9 offensive, 57.7 defensive
Players to Watch: Senior forward Cody Long (11 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Junior guard Jalen Qualkinbush (9.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg), Senior guard Logan Duffy (5.7 ppg)
Sagarin Rating: 69.39
Record: 2-5, 2-1 Indiana Crossroads Conference
Head Coach: Matt English, 62-90 in eighth year at school
Averages: 56.9 offense, 62.6 defense
Players to Watch: Sophomore guard Kenny Washington (13.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Junior guard Dylan Allen (13.3 ppg, 2.7 spg), Junior forward Chris Feely (9.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Sagarin Rating: 64.74
Record: 5-1, 2-0 Sagamore Conference
Head Coach: Adam Bontreger, 96-49 in seventh year at school
Averages: 65.7 offense, 50.5 defense
Players to Watch: Sophomore guard Tyler Watson (17.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.8 spg), Junior forward Peyton Hendershot (13.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg), Junior forward Cameron Cole (11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Sagarin Rating: 81.01
Record: 3-5, 0-2 Mid-State Conference
Head Coach: John Ashworth, 2-5 in first year at school
Averages: 59.5 offense, 68.3 defense
Players to Watch: Senior guard Antoine Divine (22.5 ppg, 2.8 apg), Sophomore forward Damani McEntire (12.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Sophomore forward Khiree Williams (9.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Sagarin Rating: 79.07