NEW PALESTINE — After losing the consolation game of the New Palestine Tournament this past weekend, first-year head coach Trent Whitaker took time to name his starting lineup for the Dragons’ next game.

His list? Five blank spots. Playing time, and specifically the luxury of starting the game, is something that will be earned.

And sometimes in basketball, having too much depth can be a problem. New Palestine has learned that fact the hard way this season as the Dragons fell to 2-7 on the year after dropping two games Saturday in their own tournament.

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After leading most of the way in the first game against Beech Grove, New Palestine took a turn in the final four minutes to fall 60-52. In the second game against Decatur Central, the Dragons stormed back from a double-digit halftime deficit to come up short 81-76.

The Hornets, who entered the tournament with the lowest Sagarin Rating, took the title after a 75-63 win against Class 3A No. 10 Tri-West (6-2).

“I told them today (Saturday), here are my starters, and I listed one through five with no names,” Whitaker said. “I told them you are all competing for a spot, and it could be any of you. We have to compete.

“Here, they all kind of do different things. That’s what we have to figure out. It’s day-to-day and even quarter-to-quarter sometimes.”

On Saturday, that quarter-to-quarter play haunted the team in both losses. In the first game against Beech Grove, tied at 44-all with 4:15 left in the fourth quarter, the Hornets closed the game on a 16-8 run to steal the win. The Dragons led by as many as 14 points in the first half.

“We’ve been doing that all year,” Whitaker said. “We see flashes of (good play). I told the kids, ‘It’s like putting a puzzle together.’ We’ve never had 10 kids here that can play. Normally, you know your starting five and who is coming off the bench.”

Against an up-tempo Decatur Central (4-6) squad, New Palestine trailed 61-44 after three quarters of play before taking it to the Hawks in the final stanza. The Dragons outscored Decatur Central 32-20, but it was too little, too late as the team only managed 30 points in the entire first half.

“We discussed the first half and second half and one kid said the difference was we competed,” Whitaker said.

One player who certainly competed in the second half was sophomore wing Gavin Hausz, who finished with a career-high 20 points including three 3-point field goals in the fourth quarter. The sharpshooter had just five points at the break and also finished with five rebounds and three assists in the loss. He finished with 11 points in the first game.

“He caught fire,” Whitaker said. “He’s capable of doing that. Other teams are going to see that now, so he’s going to make sure to get to the rim and goes up strong.”

But maybe the most valuable player of the day was 6-foot-5 senior forward John McKay, who finished the consolation game with 14 points and 12 rebounds after scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds in game one.

“McKay had a great day,” Whitaker said. “He has been one of those kids we have kind of had to wait for to use his size. He went after rebounds today. He’s going to do some dirty work inside.”

And despite the loss, Whitaker said he knows seeing success, even for a quarter, against a quality opponent will help the team’s confidence moving forward.

“It was kind of one of those deals where there are only two ways we can go,” he said. “We could make it a 30-point game or we can battle back. Confidence wise, that’s something that they needed.”

However, Hausz and McKay weren’t the only Dragons to produce on Saturday.

Senior guard Logan Duffy hit five 3-pointers on the afternoon and finished with 11 points in the loss to Beech Grove. Another senior guard, Jalen Qualkinbush, added nine and seven points, respectively, for a team that had at least seven players score in each game.

Unfortunately, after having a productive first half (six rebounds), New Palestine leading scorer Cody Long (11 points per game), a senior forward, was forced to sit and watch the rest of the afternoon due to an apparent ankle injury. Long spent the rest of the day in a walking boot.

“He was rolling pretty well,” Whitaker said. “He had this look on his face (like something was wrong). He was a kid I was looking to have a big day. He is capable, we are hoping it is nothing and he will be back next week.”

The Dragons, who boast the 53rd-toughest schedule in the state, will look to regroup after break and find consistency in the upcoming week with several key conference games scheduled in the near future. The team will host Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Delta (4-3) Friday night.

“We have to come back Monday and compete for spots,” Whitaker said.

By the numbers

New Palestine 52, Beech Grove 60

NPHS (2-6);14;14;13;11;— 52

BGHS (3-5);10;16;10;24;— 60

NEW PALESTINE — Hausz 4 0-0 11, McKay 4 0-0 8, Long 0 0-0 0 , VanderWal 2 0-3 5, Qualkinbush 4 1-1 9, Rightley 2 0-0 5, Duffy 3 2-2 11, Romine 0 0-0 0, Watson 0 0-0 0, Blackwell 1 0-0 3, Totals: 20 3-8 52.

BEECH GROVE — Washington 3 2-5 8, Allen 5 0-0 14, Andries 5 3-6 13, Corbin 0 0-0 0, Aping 0 0-0 0, Seals 2 0-0 4, Curry 7 1-2 16, Hearon 2 1-4 5, Totals: 24 7-16 60.

Decatur Central 81, New Palestine 76

DCHS (4-6);19;26;16;20; — 81

NPHS (2-7);17;13;14;32; — 76

DECATUR CENTRAL — Divine 3 8-8 15, McEntire 5 1-2 12, Tracy 4 1-1 10, Williams 1 2-2 4, McGowen 0 0-0 0, Wright 4 3-5 11, Jefferson 5 1-2 13, Buck 4 3-5 13, Thomas 0 1-2 1, Ray 1 0-0 2, Totals: 27 20-27 81.

NEW PALESTINE — Hausz 6 5-6 20, McKay 5 4-4 14, VanderWal 0 0-0 0, Qualkinbush 3 1-3 7, Rightley 5 0-1 10, Duffy 3 0-0 8, Romine 2 2-2 8, Watson 1 2-4 4, Blackwell 2 1-4 5, Totals: 27 15-24 76.

Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or