By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Kokomo’s boys basketball team enjoyed a memorable regular season. The Class 4A No. 8-ranked Wildkats went 19-2 overall and 7-0 in North Central Conference play, posting just the second perfect NCC record in school history. In addition, the Kats went undefeated at Memorial Gym for the second straight season.
“I’m really proud of this group [for] their ability to play hard, play smart, play together,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “The growth they made from the beginning of the season to the end of the regular season was very good. We had great senior leadership and our underclassmen did a great job of being consistent. We were able to win in a variety of ways. I thought our defense improved throughout the course of the season and I thought we got better offensively, too.
“I’m really pleased with our effort in the regular season, but now everyone starts over at 0-0. Every game is a one-game season.”
Indeed, the regular season is in the books. The 103rd annual IHSAA State Tournament tips off tonight with opening-round games in sectionals.
Kokomo is one of five area teams in action tonight. Four more will enter the fray Wednesday.
The following are looks at tonight’s games.
Lafayette Jeff Sectional
The 6 p.m. opener today at the Crawley Center pits defending sectional champion Kokomo (19-2) vs. Marion (10-12) in a clash of long-time rivals. The Wildkats own a 103-81 advantage in the all-time series.
On paper, Kokomo looks like a heavy favorite. The Kats ruled the NCC at 7-0 while the Giants went 2-5 and finished in a four-way tie in the basement — but the Kats had to survive a scare when the teams met in the regular season on Dec. 14 at Bill Green Arena. The Kats built a 17-point halftime lead only to see the Giants draw within four by the close of the third quarter. The teams battled to the finish line with the Kats escaping with a 57-55 win.
“Marion is a very good team,” McCauley said. “They’re very athletic, which they demonstrated the first time we played them. They have outstanding skill. They’ve made a lot of improvement over the course of the season, which is a credit to their coaching staff and their players.”
Marion has shown good fight in recent weeks, dropping narrow decisions to NCC upper-division teams Anderson (65-61) and Richmond (65-59), and scoring road victories over league foes New Castle (51-49) and Huntington North (77-60).
“They’re playing really well right now and they’re a different team from when we played them the first time,” McCauley said, noting the Giants’ starting lineup now includes two players who did not play against the Kats back in December.
“We better be ready to play for 32 minutes. The first game against Marion was a 32-minute game and we expect the same [tonight],” McCauley said.
Kokomo is led offensively by junior guard Tayler Persons (17.4 points per game), senior swingman LaBradford Sebree (15.3) and junior forward Erik Bowen (10.1). Persons also dishes a team-best 4.1 assists per game and Bowen tops the team in rebounding with 6.5 boards per game.
Marion is led by junior Alec Turner, who is averaging 12.9 ppg and 4 apg. Senior Hunter Rose is the second-leading scorer at 10.9 ppg. Sophomore Michael Tucker, who did not play against Kokomo in the NCC game, is scoring 7.3 ppg.
Kokomo has beaten Marion four straight times.
The second game tonight at Lafayette Jeff pits Harrison (10-11) vs. McCutcheon (13-8). Lafayette Jeff (7-14) and Logansport (12-8) drew first-round byes and will await tonight’s winners.
Kokomo went a perfect 5-0 against the sectional field during the regular season.
Twin Lakes sectional
The Class 3A Twin Lakes Sectional is a seven-team field, which means one game tonight and two games Wednesday before the semifinal round on Friday.
Tonight’s game features Maconaquah (11-9) vs. Twin Lakes (13-8) in a matchup of teams that did not meet in the regular season. The teams are familiar with one another — Twin Lakes beat Mac 70-61 in the opening round of last year’s sectional.
Maconaquah had an up-and-down regular season. The Braves had a 9-4 record before dropping five straight games. They rebounded to win their final two games.
Twin Lakes, on the other hand, is surging. The Indians closed the regular season on a 6-1 tear — a stretch that included a decisive 63-45 victory over Northwestern.
Mac is led by 6-foot-10 senior post Micah Pier, who averages 17.4 ppg and 6.9 rpg. Junior forward K.J. Walton (9.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg), senior guard Tyler Bradley (9 ppg, 3.5 apg) and junior wing Adam Harts (7.2 ppg) also are key players for the Braves.
Twin Lakes is led by 6-2 junior Cameron Bennington (15.2 ppg) and 6-1 junior Tyler Reddington (11.4).
Wednesday’s games pit an all-Mid-Indiana Conference clash between Western (12-8) and Peru (10-10) in the 6 p.m. opener, and Northwestern (11-9) vs. West Lafayette (16-5) in the nightcap. Check our Wednesday section for a preview of those games.
Benton Central (6-15) received the bye and will face the Mac-TL winner in Friday’s semifinal round.
The six-team field at Tipton features only two teams with winning records — Elwood (11-10) and No. 2-ranked Tipton (20-2) — and they meet in the second game tonight.
Tonight’s opener shows Eastern (3-17) vs. Alexandria (4-17) in the first meeting between the schools in the class tournament era.
Eastern went into the Christmas break with a 3-5 record, but has not tasted victory since. The Comets enter the sectional on a 12-game losing streak. Alexandria has dropped five straight, a skid that includes one-point losses to Muncie South and Wes-Del and a three-point loss to Madison-Grant.
Defending sectional champion Tipton takes the court in the second game. The Blue Devils are led by Indiana All-Star candidate and St. Louis recruit Mike Crawford, who is pouring in 27.3 ppg.
Madison-Grant (8-12) and Taylor (5-16) drew opening-round byes and will face tonight’s winners in Friday’s semifinal round.
No. 6-ranked Lafayette Central Catholic is the favorite in the six-team sectional at Tri-Central, and the Knights (13-8) take the court in the 6 p.m. opener today against Frontier (8-13).
Tonight’s second game is an all-Hoosier Heartland Conference clash between the host Trojans (9-11) and Rossville (10-11). Rossville went 5-0 in winning the league title, beating TC 59-47 on Jan. 11 at TC.
The Trojans enter the sectional with some momentum after winning five straight to close the regular season.
The Hornets dropped their final two games in the regular season — to sectional rival LCC (58-52) and Class 3A West Lafayette (66-46).
Faith Christian (4-17) and Clinton Prairie (2-18) received first-round byes and will face tonight’s winners in Friday’s semifinals.
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