By Travis Miller
In Kokomo’s first game at the old Madison Heights gym since the late 1980s, the Wildkats decided to play a throwback North Central Conference slugfest. Kokomo and Anderson shared identical 12-2 overall records and spotless 3-0 league records, but it was Kokomo that prevailed in their first trip to Anderson since the venerable Wigwam closed.
Tayler Persons had 23 points, including 19 in the second half, as Kokomo rallied from down nine points in the third quarter to earn a thrilling 69-64 victory. It also gave the Wildkats sole possession of first place in the NCC as the last unbeaten.
Kokomo snapped a two-game losing streak.
“This was a significant program win,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “We had faced some adversity in our last two games against some very good teams but this was a great team as well. They had won 10 straight and we challenged our players to meet and exceed their passion.”
As expected with teams that had identical records, it was a tight one. The teams battled through eight ties and 10 lead changes.
Anderson made the first major move of the game as Jalin Beard scored the Indians’ first nine points for an early 9-4 lead. LaBradford Sebree answered for Kokomo with eight straight points to move Kokomo in front, but Anderson recovered to lead 17-12 after one quarter. The Indians pushed the lead to 28-22 at the half as Kokomo slowed the tempo with their 2-3 zone.
Anderson’s athleticism showed in the third quarter as the Indians got a pair of big 3-pointers from Chris Lemon and a number of baskets by slicing through Kokomo’s zone. Anderson led 40-31 with 4:34 left in the third and was threatening to run away when McCauley changed up his defense.
“They were slicing and dicing us and really getting some open looks but the change of defense was incredibly effective,” McCauley said. “We took away their penetration, contested some shots, and prevented them from getting angles on the drive. It was a significant turning point.”
While another triple from Lemon made it 40-31, Mykal Cox got it right back with a hoop-and-harm three-point play just 16 seconds later. That spurred on a critical 11-0 Kokomo run where Persons scored six.
During the run, Kokomo forced Anderson into five straight turnovers, one of which was a coast-to-coast steal and layup by Hakim Burnett that tied the game at 40. Anderson recovered to lead 45-44 after three quarters, but the burst set the stage for a wild fourth quarter.
Both teams turned up their defensive pressure and offensive tempo to combine for 44 fourth-quarter points. The lead changed hands five times in the first three minutes before Kokomo went ahead for good on a three-point play by Persons with 5:21 left. That put Kokomo ahead 52-49 and was part of a 14-5 run that ultimately sealed the game for the Kats.
“When this team has a game like this where every single individual finds their role, we’re a tough team to beat,” McCauley said. “A guy like Mykal Cox came off the bench and was huge for us [Friday]. He’s a great passer and creates so much offense for us.”
Cox finished with seven points and six assists for Kokomo.
Sebree scored 19 points and had a career-high seven steals, while Erik Bowen had seven points and 10 rebounds. Kylee Beheler also had a nice night, filling the stat sheet with six points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.