NEW PALESTINE — The pieces to the puzzle are beginning to take shape for New Palestine’s Trent Whitaker.
Adjusting to new players, overcoming injuries and bringing along a roster filled with youth, Whitaker and the Dragons have been no strangers to adversity in the head coach’s second season in control.
But after struggling to shoot the ball the night before, the basket appeared to be the size of a hula hoop for New Palestine on Saturday against potential sectional foe Marshall in a 74-44 rout at home.
Every player lent a hand in an up-and-down game that saw the Dragons connect on 10 shots from behind the 3-point line. Junior wing Gavin Hausz created a spark, then caught fire and finished with a team-high 25 points off the bench.
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Veteran Jalen Qualkinbush, a senior forward, added 15 points. His eight points in the first quarter on 4 of 4 shooting helped New Palestine (2-8) build a 35-27 halftime lead it never relinquished.
Senior forward Samuel Voelz, a high-energy cross country runner, posted his second consecutive nine-rebound effort against a long and athletic Patriot team. He added five points, which was a career-high for the quick-jumping senior.
“I made (Voelz) try out this year since he played freshman year,” Qualkinbush said. “He is giving it his all. He got a starting spot tonight.”
Added Whitaker: “We weren’t sure what we would get out of (Voelz) at the beginning of the year. He’s doing what he needs to do and is getting more confidence with the basketball.”
In addition to shaping Voelz into a varsity player, Whitaker has been forced to overcome injuries to key rotation players. Hausz, who tore his ACL, missed the first five games of the season. Sophomore guard Dylan Romine missed four games but has been back since Dec. 30 and contributed seven points against the Patriots. However, junior Harrison VanRhoon is still out after suffering an injury against Greenfield-Central on Dec. 9.
Hausz, though, appears up to speed after netting his second-highest point total of his career on Saturday. He hit three 3-pointers in the second quarter and finished with 11 points in the frame and 15 at the break. Hausz would finish with five triples in the game.
“(Hausz) is kind of our spark,” Whitaker said. “It just takes one person to hit a shot for us to get some confidence. Things go well, it’s easy. When things go tough, we need someone to make a play for us.”
The Dragons led 38-32 early in the third quarter, which would be the closest Marshall would come in the second half, and put their foot on the gas the rest of the way to close the period leading 52-40.
Maybe the most impressive statistic of the night though, in a hot-shooting effort, came from the defense.
New Palestine held Marshall to four points in the fourth quarter, outscoring the visitors 20-4 in the final eight minutes of action. Junior reserve Connor Dobbins led the team with a career-high seven points in the quarter.
For the game, the Dragons finished 29 of 55 (53 percent) from the field.
“Everyone gets confident in their shot and can start knocking them down,” Qualkinbush said. “Coach got on us (in second half) about letting them score too much. We just guarded them and shut them down.”
In a tough environment at Delta on Friday, New Palestine lost 46-35 to fall to 1-8 before the win over the Patriots. Two of the team’s losses (New Castle and Decatur Central) have been by four points or less.
With two underclassmen starting at the guard positions, a season of ups and downs — thus far — has thickened the Dragon’s’ skin.
Freshman point guard Maximus Gizzi and sophomore shooter Matthew True added eight and seven points, respectively, against Marshall and are second and third on the team in scoring behind Qualkinbush this season at 12 and 10 points per game.
True nailed back-to-back threes during a second-quarter run against the Patriots one night after scoring 12 points at Delta. Gizzi was held scoreless in the first half against Marshall but played did his part, rarely forcing a play that wasn’t there. He finished with five assists in the game and is averaging three per game on the year.
The talent is there for Whitaker, although it has seemingly, until now, been scattered across the board. But when it clicks, like it did against Marshall, the pieces paint a pretty picture.
“Trust was a big word of the night (Saturday),” Whitaker said. “They needed to trust, No. 1, in their own ability and then trust their teammates. Also, trust the process that we are getting better everyday.”