INDIANAPOLIS — On most nights, New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker and his Dragons would be satisfied with the final numbers.
Finishing their Sectional 27 semifinal game Friday night nearly 50 percent from the field, the Dragons exceeded their season shooting average. Unfortunately, so did the Class 3A Bishop Chatard Trojans.
Locked in from the start, the Trojans (4-19) rarely missed an opportunity, and their defense kept the Dragons (7-17) away from their comfort zone, to win 51-48 at Brebeuf Jesuit.
“We knew they were a really tough team. They played a really tough schedule, so we expected a tough game. But they shot the ball really well,” New Palestine freshman point guard Maximus Gizzi said. “It kind of surprised us a little bit.”
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This season the Trojans hovered around 38 percent shooting and were 25 percent from 3-point range. In the semifinals, they dwarfed both firing at 54 percent overall and went 6 of 13 from deep.
Billy Dury posted a game-high 15 points while Cody Albin had 10 as the Trojans won their second straight game — for the first time this season — to advance into tonight’s championship game.
“We just didn’t have that moment where we put together those two or three 3-pointers like we had all year,” Whitaker remarked. “That’s what has put us over the top at times this year.”
Against the Trojans, the Dragons were an uncharacteristic 3 of 15 from beyond the arc, down 13 percentage points from their season average at 33.
Yet, despite the setback, they never gave up, battling through six lead changes and three ties as the Dragons trailed until late in the second quarter.
“That’s been the motto all year, never stop fighting,” Gizzi said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be the prettiest, but we knew we could do some special things if we got a couple of things to go our way. We just kept fighting.”
Gizzi supplied the momentum and sophomore Austin Keele delivered in the post. Keele collected three consecutive dishes in the lane from Gizzi, handing New Palestine its first lead, 21-20, with 1 minute, 38 seconds remaining in the first half.
On the second connection, Keele muscled inside to tie the game at 23-all before beating the buzzer on the final conversion to put the Dragons up 25-23 at halftime.
“We know the seniors really wanted it bad,” Keele said. “We wanted it for them. But the ball bounces different ways sometimes, and tonight, it didn’t go our way. It’s frustrating.”
New Palestine held a 28-23 lead after a 7-0 run that stretched from the second frame into the third, but a 7-2 swing by the Trojans knotted up the score at 30-all.
Junior Gavin Hausz, who had seven points, pushed the Dragons’ advantage with an up-and-under in the third quarter’s final 48 seconds, but once again the Trojans responded.
Bishop Chatard went on a 6-0 run in the fourth quarter and built a six-point margin behind a Dury bucket with 3:23 left in the game.
“They shot 25 percent from the 3-point line on the year. Tonight, they had kids step up and hit big shots. They almost doubled their shooting,” Whitaker said. “We haven’t shot the ball that poorly from that range all year. We had to step back a little farther than we were used to. I thought their game plan against us was really good.”
A Gizzi mid-range jumper with 2:07 on the clock sliced the Trojans’ lead to 44-42. A 3-pointer by Gizzi with 3.2 seconds left made it 51-48, but there wasn’t enough time to make another push.
Sophomore Matthew True had eight points for the Dragons while senior Jalen Qualkinbush finished with six points and seven rebounds.
“That group has been a pleasure to coach. The seniors (Qualkinbush, Graham Biggs and Sam Voelz) gave us everything they had,” Whitaker said. “It’s not the ending you want to give to those kids. They deserve better, but those three young men are going to go out and do bigger and better things with their lives.”