By Travis Miller
New Castle —
In basketball it’s not how much you lead, but when. With a girls-boys North Central Conference doubleheader at New Castle Friday night, Kokomo earned a sweep despite leading for only 2.7 seconds in a combined 64 minutes of regulation.
The girls earned a hard-fought 38-37 victory in the opener, taking their only lead in regulation on an Alanis Jones free throw with 2.7 seconds left. The boys needed overtime and didn’t even hold a lead in regulation before coming away with a 47-44 victory.
“Wow,” said a tongue-tied Kokomo boys coach Brian McCauley. “We came in here [Friday] and beat a very physical and fundamentally sound basketball team. They are an extremely well-coached basketball team, but we got the rebounds and stops when we absolutely needed them.”
Though the Class 4A No. 6-ranked Kokomo boys never led in regulation, the Kats were tied five times and kept up with a New Castle team that was extremely patient with every possession. The Trojans led by as much as six late in the third quarter, but Kat senior LaBradford Sebree tied the game on a putback of a missed shot with 1:58 left.
New Castle then missed a shot on its next possession, and Kokomo held for the final short of regulation. Erik Bowen was fouled as he attempted to drive to the basket with 35.3 seconds left. Bowen missed both free throws and New Castle had a chance to win at the end of regulation.
Tayler Persons prevented New Castle’s game-winning shot attempt with a block of a Steven Bennett jumper as time expired, sending the game to overtime.
“They played their game. They are good three-point shooting team and a very good free throw shooting team,” said McCauley. “Korey Ryan gets to the free throw line at least eight times per game and [Friday] he was 8 of 10 from the line.”
Once in the extra session, Kokomo won the tip and finally took the lead thanks to Persons. The junior guard drove the basket and scored with 3:04 left and got the bonus of a foul call on the play. He added the free throw, Kokomo’s first made free throw after going 0 for 4 in regulation, to put Kokomo in front 45-42.
Finally trailing, New Castle was still content to be patient and work the ball around Kokomo’s 2-3 zone. Ryan attacked the zone with 2:33 left and was rewarded with a trip to the line. After a pair of made free throws Kokomo’s lead was cut to 45-44.
The Wildkats attempted to work the clock, but Hakim Burnett took a wide open 15-foot jumper that just missed. New Castle corralled the rebound and held for their own last shot. Once again, Ryan attacked the basket but missed with six seconds left. Persons grabbed the rebound and hit two more free throws with 5.4 seconds left before New Castle’s final desperation heave missed at the buzzer.
“It’s tough in a game like this where you feel more athletic but you’re forced to pass the ball around the perimeter and be patient,” said McCauley. “Once you’re down you have to be even more patient and we were down from the beginning.”
New Castle started the game by hitting 11 of its first 15 shots to open a 25-22 lead at halftime. The 73.3 shooting percentage cooled considerably in the second half, as the Trojans were only 4 of 18 in the second half and overtime. New Castle did enjoy a significant advantage at the foul line, however, with 11 makes on 14 attempts to Kokomo’s 3-of-7 shooting.
Kokomo was led by Persons, who finished with 19 points and three assists. Sebree added 14 points and seven rebounds, six of them coming on the offensive glass. Three times Sebree followed a missed shot for a key second-chance basket.
Jones drew a foul on a drive with 2.7 seconds left and the score tied 37-37. Jones calmly sank the first free throw and missed the second, letting the clock run down and preventing a desperation shot as the Kokomo girl’s team earned a hard-fought 38-37 win.
Kokomo led only those final 2.7 seconds and trailed by as many as 14 in the third quarter before finishing the game on a 21-6 run. Briana Fowler had 11 points and Jasmine Love added 10 points, but it was Jones’ fifth point that made all the difference.
“I thought we had our best people in the right spots and we got the play we wanted to run there at the end,” said Kokomo coach Jason Snyder. “They didn’t come out on Briana at the end so she went and attacked the basket before hitting a big free throw.”
Kokomo was able to move ahead thanks to a second half in which it held the Trojans to 10 points. New Castle managed only four points to Kokomo’s six in a tense fourth quarter.