NEW PALESTINE — Dawson Eastes started out Friday night’s Hoosier Heritage Conference showdown against Pendleton Heights wearing No. 33, but by the end of the night, the New Palestine senior wore a cape.
Changing over to No. 4 in the second quarter due to a blood stain, Eastes put in a heroic performance, scoring a career-high 31 points with nine rebounds to rally the host Dragons to a 76-61 victory.
Eastes had nine points in the first quarter and posted 16 by halftime before finishing the game shooting 12 of 15 from the field and 6 of 9 from the free-throw line.
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“Every time I’ve done that, we’ve won,” Eastes joked about his in-game jersey change. “Every time in the second quarter, I need to bleed a little bit and make the switch.
“It was just my teammates feeding me, and I finally got going. In the first quarter, I started to get going, hitting free throws and finishing to the basket.”
The last time Eastes, a Hanover College recruit, had a mid-game waretrobe change due to a blood stain, he poured in 25 points with 16 rebounds over HHC foe Delta in a 76-65 win last Friday.
By nearly repeating the feat, Eastes and senior Maximus Gizzi’s 24 points kept the Dragons (4-9, 3-1 HHC) in the conference hunt.
Eric Roudebush added 10 points, and the Dragons countered a 13-point deficit in the first quarter with three straight frames of 18 points or more.
Pendleton Heights (8-5, 3-2 HHC) came out firing, converting 6 of 8 jumpers from 3-point range to take a 24-11 lead. Jamison Dunham finished with a team-high 19 points with 3 of 5 falling from beyond the arc.
Davrick Black had 16 points with three 3-pointers and Tristan Ross had four 3-pointers for 15 points.
“We just tried to settle down, know our game plan. They were hitting shots, and we knew they would hit some, but if we could just get on their shooters and pressure the ball a little bit more, we could slow them down,” Eastes said. “It worked. They hit six 3s in the first quarter, and we slowed them down after that.”
The Dragons picked up steam with a 12-2 run in the second quarter that continued into the third to build a 43-33 advantage.
Gizzi’s fourth 3-pointer put the Dragons in control before the Arabians sliced the margin to five points with 4:31 left in the third, then Eastes and Gizzi went to work and made sure they stayed in control.
“Teams target him a lot, and this year, I haven’t been stepping up as much as I need to, and tonight, I finally did that,” Eastes said. “If we can keep this going, then I think we can run the conference and build on this and keep it going.”
An Eastes and-1 with 5:32 remaining in the game pushed him well beyond his 12.8 points per game average and a second and-1 with 2:18 left made the score 70-56.
“That’s home game No. 2 that it’s happened. He got blood on his jersey last week, and he played No. 4 and he did alright,” New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker said. “We’re thinking we’ll just change jerseys at halftime.
“What an outstanding game for him. He needed one like that. He absolutely dominated inside. He stepped outside and hit a huge 3-pointer for us in the third quarter to kind of keep it rolling. He was a man inside.”
The Dragons starting five were behind after a long state championship football season for both Roudebush and Eastes, but Whitaker believes the team is starting to find their rhythm and legs.
The victory is their second in three after losing four straight prior to the turnaround.
Gizzi, who was honored prior to the game for breaking Tom Giles’ 41-year-old all-time career scoring record of 1,285 points also became the program’s all-time career steals and assists leaders by the final buzzer.
“I can’t say enough great things about the things he’s done. He missed eight games his sophomore year, so this would have happened a few games ago,” Whitaker said. “He’s the leader of this team. I can’t stress that enough. He’s incredible player, and the kids feed off of him.”