ICHMOND — A gash swelled on Maximus Gizzi’s forehead on Tuesday night — a memento from a hard-fought postseason victory — and he wore it proudly.
After absorbing a hard foul and mild blow to the head against rival Pendleton Heights late in the fourth quarter, Gizzi wasn’t fazed. If anything, he was ready for another 32 minutes.
“(I’m) fine. There’s a lot of adrenaline pumping right now, so I don’t feel much, but we’ll see in a couple of hours,” the New Palestine sophomore point guard remarked while nonchalantly wiping the small gash on his forehead. “I’m good.”
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Gizzi and the New Palestine Dragons were more than good during the Class 4A Sectional 9 opening round against the Arabians, they were the excellence of execution personified.
Gizzi finished with a game-high 27 points, shooting 14 of 17 from the foul line and 6 of 12 from the field, to lead the Dragons to a 71-56 win and an automatic berth into Friday night’s sectional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. against host Richmond.
The Dragons (14-9) lost to the Arabians (11-13) during the regular season 64-49, but in the playoffs, they got their revenge behind a 46 percent shooting night from the floor and 28 of 31 free throws converted.
“It’s tough because they know everything you like to do, what you’re going to run and how you play, but on the other hand so do you,” Gizzi said. “It’s an even battle, and it comes down to who wants it at the end of the day. We really wanted this win.”
The two programs exchanged runs from the opening tip, leading into the fourth quarter, as the Arabians countered an early 8-2 run by New Palestine with a 9-2 swing in the first half.
A 9-2 run in the third quarter by the Dragons was answered with an 11-2 charge by the Arabians, who were led by Justin Shupe’s team-high 22 points.
Ahead 44-38 entering the final quarter, New Palestine used its discipline to finish the night while their defense was consistent throughout.
“We’ve been putting in this plan for a couple of weeks, ever since the draw. Our kids did a great job. They were laser-focused,” New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker said. “(Trent) Miller obviously hurt us big time a couple of weeks ago with 31 (points), and we did a nice job of staying back, catching their slips, catching the rolls and ball screens. We wanted to make him try to hit some tough shots.”
Miller was limited to seven points in the rematch, while Eli Pancol had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Arabians. Dameion Warrum, who had 15 points for Pendleton Heights in the first game, was held to 10 points this time.
“Poise was the word we used this week,” Whitaker said. “We keep talking about how we have to play 160 minutes where you have five guys playing 32 minutes. That’s team effort and what we’ve been preaching all year. These kids don’t care about the limelight. They play basketball games and compete.”
The Dragons were ice cold in the clutch, hitting 22 of 25 free throws in the fourth quarter alone with Gizzi knocking down 12 of 15, including a pair after getting fouled with 41.4 seconds left.
Matthew True had 13 points for the Dragons, going 8-for-8 from the foul line. Gizzi added eight rebounds, while Dawson Eastes had nine points. Both Dylan Romine and Gavin Hausz posted eight points apiece.