ON ALL CYLINDERS: Dragons dominate on offense, defense in big win

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NEW PALESTINE — The first time Dawson Eastes rose up to slam the ball home with a dunk, it energized the gym, tied the game at 3-3 and sparked the Dragons offense to life.

The second time Eastes dunked the ball, it added to a big Dragons lead.

The third time, well, that was an exclamation point. Eastes slammed the ball through the hoop with emphasis, shutting the door on visiting New Castle.

“I’ve been working all summer to get stronger in the weight room, I’ve been doing a jump program to help with my vertical,” Eastes said. “When I had an opportunity, I was just trying to make the most of it.”

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He certainly did. Eastes had a huge game individually and the Dragons had an impressive performance as a team, blowing the game wide open with two big runs and picking up a crucial 84-59 conference win against the defending Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Trojans.

“That’s a really good team. Bumbalough is a heck of a player,” New Palestine junior Maximus Gizzi said. “To get a conference win like that, on Friday night, is huge. For us to come out here and play like that, that’s absolutely massive.”

The Trojans, who finished undefeated in the HHC last year and made it all the way to semistate, were without one of their biggest pieces in expected Mr. Basketball candidate and Purdue commit Mason Gillis. Gillis, who had a huge junior year, has yet to play this season. He is recovering from a second knee surgery performed over the summer.

That meant the focus from New Palestine was on one person and pretty much one person only — Ball State commit Luke Bumbalough, who came in averaging nearly 30 points per game.

The defense frustrated Bumbalough in the opening half, holding him to 2-of-10 shooting and opening themselves up a 27-20 halftime lead.

The senior standout eventually got his points, finishing with a game-high 28, but seven of the points came from the free throw line and he shot just 8-of-21 overall.

“Our whole focus this week was on Bumbalough,” Eastes said. “We all had our matchups, but it was really five guys guard Bumbalough. If he was on, we were trying to just send more guys at him, try to pressure him, make him take bad shots, make him force shots. Pass to his teammates who, they’re good shooters, but they’re not him. We just wanted to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible.”

When the Dragons forced Bumbalough to pass, his teammates struggled just as he did. New Palestine’s defense was suffocating all night, holding the visitors to 18 made shots on 51 attempts.

While the Trojans shot 35 percent for the game, the Dragons were hitting seemingly everything. The hosts finished 31-of-48 from the floor, a blistering 65 percent.

Everyone was hot. Eastes led the way with 25 points on 8-of-9 shooting. He added five rebounds and a pair of assists.

“He did a great job,” New Palestine coach Trent Whitaker said. “Number one, defense is where it started, and that kind of translated into dunks on the other end. Dawson honestly is playing with a lot of confidence, playing very relaxed. The game is very slow to him right now.”

Gizzi followed right behind with 21 points, on 8-of-12 shooting. He added six assists and five rebounds. Matthew True had 17 points, shooting 4-of-5 from long range and 6-of-7 overall. He had three assists himself.

The fourth Dragon starter to reach double figures was Dylan Romine, who scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

With everyone making shots, the assist numbers piled up. The Dragons had 15 assists on 31 makes.

“It really says something about our unselfishness, how we can share the ball and find the open guy,” Eastes said. “It just felt like everyone was energized, everyone was hitting shots, getting open shots. If we can keep this going, I think we can be a pretty good team and have a shot at winning a conference title.”

The win was the first time in the last four attempts the Dragons topped the Trojans. Two big runs sparked them, as the defense tightened up to end the first quarter, leading to an 11-0 run, and they swarmed New Castle to start the second half, leading to a 14-0 run that put the game away.

The victory moves the Dragons to 2-1 on the season and, more importantly, gives them a 2-0 start to HHC play.

“It’s real early, but the nice thing is we now see what we can do,” Whitaker said. “That’s going to be the game that we can say we’re going to take a step back or we’re going to continue to get better. I like to think that we’re going to get better and not just settle for one great game.”

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New Palestine 84, New Castle 59

New Castle;9;11;15;24;—;59

New Palestine;15;12;31;26;—;84

New Castle (2-4, 1-1): Luke Bumbalough 8 7-8 28, Nicholas Grieser 4 0-0 10, Mason Hardwick 3 0-0 9, Blake Burris 1 0-2 3, Cole McDaniel 1 0-0 3, Collin Blessinger 0 0-0 0, Brandon Matney 0 0-0 0, William Grieser 1 1-2 3, Jackson Clapp 0 2-2 2, Kaeden Riggs 0 1-2 1. Totals: 18 11-16 59.

New Palestine (2-1, 2-0): Maximus Gizzi 8 4-4 21, Matthew True 6 1-2 17, Dawson Eastes 8 7-8 25, Dylan Romine 6 0-0 14, Maxen Hook 0 1-5 1, Kyle King 0 1-2 1, Eric Roudebush 0 0-0 0, Luke Ramsey 0 0-0 0, Jacob Hockett 1 0-0 3. Totals: 31 14-21 84.

3-point goals: New Castle 12 (Bumbalough 5, Hardwick 3, W. Grieser 2, Burris, McDaniel), New Palestine 10 (True 4, Eastes 2, Romine 2, Gizzi, Hockett).

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Also in action Friday night were the Greenfield-Central Cougars, who traveled to Yorktown for a conference matchup.

Yorktown 79, Greenfield-Central 70

The Cougars led by one before a buzzer-beating 3-pointer put the hosts out front after the first quarter. Greenfield-Central falls to 0-4 with the loss.

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