CHARLOTTESVILLE — With the departure of leading scorers Blaine Nunnally and Ian Stephens, the biggest question mark for the New Palestine boys basketball team entering the season was who would step up and be this year’s main guys.

It took just one game for the Dragons to find that answer.

Led by juniors Julius Gizzi and Ben Slagley the Class 4A Dragons defeated Class 2A Eastern Hancock 71-47 in the annual early-December meeting between the two Hancock County teams.

“I think they were a little overzealous tonight at times. They were excited because they are the guys now, and everyone knows that they’re the guys. They want to show people that they can do that. The first game being the main guy, it’s different,” New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t played a lot of varsity minutes, so we’re trying to figure out who we are. To come here on the road and get a win in game one is good.”

The duo outscored the Royals single-handedly in both the first and second quarters, combined for 32 first-half points, and scored 43 of the Dragons 71 points. Gizzi led all scorers with a career-high 24 points and Slagley scored 19.

“Those two guys are really good at a lot of different things. They can put it on the floor, post up, and shoot threes. They can score at every level and that makes it really hard,” Eastern Hancock head coach Brett Bechtel said. “The other guys around them can hit shots too. That makes those two really, really difficult to guard.”

New Palestine jumped out to an early 7-3 lead before a Charlie Halcomb offensive rebound and layup cut things to two.

A Gizzi layup made things 13-8, and the Dragons led 15-10 after an opening hard-fought first quarter.

In the second, the Dragons flexed their muscles.

Slagley exploded for 12 second-quarter points and Gizzi added seven.

Eastern Hancock’s Garrett Shaw opened the quarter with a layup to cut the Royals deficit to three, but New Palestine scored the next seven points.

A Gizzi layup, A Brady Armstrong steal and layup, and a Slagley basket and free throw pushed the lead to 22-12.

“This showed us that our competitiveness and toughness needs to be better,” Bechtel said. “I like this game early in the year because it can show some early-season character and some things that we need to work on that’s not just basketball stuff.”

In the final minute of the quarter, Gizzi knocked down a three, and Slagley beat the buzzer for a three of his own for a 36-19 halftime lead.

“We talked about some things defensively, but we just couldn’t quite get there. We had a couple of possessions too in the second quarter where we had a few offensive rebounds and never finished the shot from five feet. That’s tough when they can go down and score from wherever and we can’t score from five feet,” Bechtel said. “That takes some toughness and competitiveness that we didn’t quite show and we need to find that because we’re going to have a lot of games this year against good people like that.”

A Halcomb layup early in the third and a Luke Schilling basket brought the Royals back within 12, 38-26, but that’s as close as the Dragons would let them get.

By the end of the quarter, they grew their lead to 50-31, and early in the fourth quarter a no-look assist from Moses Haynes to Gizzi for the basket pushed the lead to 20.

“It was more defensively for us. That’s where we have to focus. Our defense is going to lead to transition baskets,” Whitaker said. “We have Mo who wants to push the basketball and find people for layups, so if we get stops it’s easier to get out in transition.”

Eastern Hancock’s Luke Morris scored nine of his team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter, but Armstrong scored seven in the quarter, Evan Darrah scored seven off the bench and Gizzi added another five to keep the Dragons ahead.

The 16 Eastern Hancock fourth-quarter points were their most in a period all night long. Eli Mansip, Ruble, and Caden Powers scored along with Morris.

Caiden Willis followed up Morris with seven points, Ruble finished with six, and Manship and Halcomb each had five.

“With this group, we’re going to have nights where we make shots and nights where we don’t. That’s one of our weaknesses,” Bechtel said. “We’re going to have to find ways to score, and we didn’t do that tonight. Their pressure made us play one-on-one and that’s not who we are.”

New Palestine hosts Rushville tonight at 7:30 p.m. while Eastern Hancock travels to Wes-Del for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

New Palestine 71, Eastern Hancock 47

New Palestine;15;21;14;21;—;71

Eastern Hancock;10;9;12;16;—;47

New Palestine (1-0): Julius Gizzi 11 1-3 24, Ben Slagley 7 4-4 19, Moses Haynes 1 0-0 2, Brady Armstrong 4 0-0 9, Keagan Harrison 4 0-0 8, Evan Darrah 2 2-2 7, Alex Guhl 0 0-0 0, Rigg Mahurin 0 0-0 0, Austin McMahan 1 0-0 2. Totals: 30 7-9 71.

Eastern Hancock (1-1): Kayden Ruble 1 4-5 6, Caden Powers 1 0-0 2, Luke Morris 8 1-4 18, Caiden Willis 3 0-0 7, Luke Schilling 1 0-0 2, Charlie Halcomb 2 1-4 5, Eli Manship 2 1-1 5, Garrett Shaw 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 7-14 47.

3-point goals: New Palestine 4 (Gizzi, Slagley, Armstrong, Darrah); Eastern Hancock 2 (Willis, Morris).