NEW PALESTINE — The unbeaten New Palestine Dragons wanted to make their intentions known on Friday night, and they did it from deep.
After a 1-6 finish in the Hoosier Heritage Conference a year ago, the Class 4A Dragons went ballistic from 3-point range, converting 11 to topple county foe Greenfield-Central 56-44 in their league opener.
“That’s our one goal is to win, and we want to win as a team,” New Palestine sophomore guard Maximus Gizzi said. “Being the first conference game, that makes everything bigger. We want to win the conference this year.”
Gizzi led the Dragons, who improved to 4-0 on the season, with a game-high 21 points. The guard went 7 for 13 and buried a pair of treys.
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Gavin Hausz added 11 points, nailing three 3-pointers as the Dragons turned a 25-22 halftime lead into a 16-point advantage in the second half.
“We definitely wanted to make a statement,” Gizzi said. “We want to prove to everybody, especially after last year.”
Gizzi showed his skills, slashing to the basket and firing from all depths while racking up seven assists. With New Palestine down 17-12 to Greenfield-Central (1-3, 0-1 HHC) early in the second quarter, Gizzi and Dylan Romine spearheaded a key 13-5 run.
Romine, who had nine points off the bench kicked off the run with a 3-pointer, which Gizzi followed with three buckets, including a trey. Romine added another long-range three to push the lead to 25-19.
“It has been a strength of ours and it will still be a strength of ours,” New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker remarked on his team’s 3-point shooting. “Gavin found his stroke tonight, but it’s about confidence. Once one goes, they all start to go.”
Will O’Connor hit a 3-pointer prior to halftime to narrow the margin 25-22. He finished with a team-high 17 points. Brian Long had 10 points and 13 rebounds for a double-double. Matt Turner finished with 12 points, going 2 of 5 from 3-point range.
“We executed and we got the shot attempts we wanted. I thought our ball control and execution was phenomenal in the first half. The boys couldn’t have executed the defensive game plan more to perfection,” Greenfield-Central head coach Lukas Haworth said. “The biggest change was turnovers versus field goal attempts in the second half. We had some turnovers that led to fastbreak opportunities, and we got tired.”
Gizzi hit his stride, draining five straight shots through the first half and 2 of 3 to open the third quarter. A 10-2 run by the Dragons put them up 41-27 with Gizzi dishing two assists and accounting for five points.
A 3-pointer by Matthew True with 4:15 remaining gave the Dragons their largest lead at 47-31.
“That’s huge for us because the first three games we had not been shooting well at all from deep,” Gizzi said. “To get a spark going is huge, especially with True and Gavin, they were big for us.”
The Dragons converted 7 of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter to fend off the Cougars.