By BRYAN GASKINS Kokomo Tribune
---- — WALTON — Western and Class 2A No. 9-ranked Lewis Cass went back and forth in regulation of their Mid-Indiana Conference boys basketball contest Friday night. Every time one squad seemed to grab momentum, the other squad answered with a run of its own. Regulation ended in a 71-all tie.
The overtime session proved all Cass.
The Kings scored on their opening possession of OT, then took advantage of the Panthers’ repeated turnovers to pull away for an 85-74 win. The Panthers committed four turnovers in the extra session after committing just nine in regulation.
“We were able to handle their press for the first 32 minutes of the game. For some reason, there in overtime, we got a little overzealous or tried to make the big play — I don’t know exactly what it was — but we had turnovers and we’re having to play catch-up,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “We had to foul and give them credit, they knocked down their free throws there in the overtime.”
The Kings made 10 of 12 free throw attempts in OT to secure their 13th straight win. Austin Keisling was 6 of 6.
Cass scored on the opening possession of OT with Ryan Bixler grabbing an offensive rebound and converting a putback. Western missed a shot on its first possession, then had turnovers on its next three possessions. The Kings scored after each of those turnovers to build a 79-71 lead with 1:29 remaining. Following another Western miss, Cass went up 81-71.
“Our full-court pressure all season has paid big dividends for us,” Cass coach Jon Kitchel said. “A lot of teams, we can turn over and score out of it. Western is good enough, and they have great ball-handlers, that it didn’t really do that, but we felt like we needed to keep up the pressure, that we could wear them down over the course of the game. It really didn’t happen until the overtime.”
Cass had to rally late to force the OT. Western was up 70-67 after Evan Warden scored off a press break with 1:14 left. The Kings’ Blake Hadley scored on a drive to make it 70-69 at 1:05. Warden went to the line at :17 for a one-and-bonus opportunity. He made the first for a 71-69 lead, but missed the second. Cass tied it when freshman Evan Ohman grabbed an offensive rebound in a crowd and scored a putback at :07.6.
Ohman offered four points and eight rebounds off the bench.
“He is growing up so fast,” Kitchel said of the promising freshman. “When we put him in there, we don’t even think of his age because we know he’ll produce. He has played enough basketball that he understands the game. He had some big rebounds and he shut a guy down on defense at a pivotal point of the game. He cut the baseline off, challenged the shot, they missed it and we got the rebound.”
The regulation was chock-full of action. Western jumped to a 10-3 lead, Cass battled back for a 19-all tie by the close of the opening quarter and the Kings went on for a 40-36 halftime lead. The Kings led 49-44 midway through the third quarter, but the Panthers ripped off a 9-0 run en route to a 53-51 lead at the close of the quarter.
Cass surged to a 63-55 lead at 4:57 of the final quarter, but Western followed with a 9-0 run to go in front 64-63 at 2:34. Des Balentine capped the run with a driving jumper and free throw.
“It was a poor coaching move on my part when we had an eight-point lead,” Kitchel said. “We should have ran the weave at that point. I thought there was too much time left.”
Cass regrouped, forced overtime and took the win — and snapped a seven-game losing streak in the teams’ series.
“Heck of a game by both squads. Both battled very hard,” Miller said. “Our guys battled. We battled all night. Hat’s off to Cass, [Friday] they were the better team.”
Free throws were a big difference in the game. The Kings had more makes (32) than the Panthers had attempts (18).
The Kings were 32 of 38 from the charity stripe. Keisling was 15 of 16 and Bixler was 10 of 12.
“We’ve been shooting free throws really well. We feel like if we can get a lead, we can close a game out with our free-throw shooters,” Kitchel said.
Keisling finished with 23 points, Bixler had 20 and Hadley had 19. Bixler also had a game-high 13 rebounds.
Balentine led Western with a game-high 31 points. He repeatedly beat the Kings’ defense on drives during an 18-point opening half. Warden finished with 15 points, Mo Townsend had 12 points and Zach Shahan grabbed 12 rebounds.
Cass improved to 15-2 overall and closed MIC play 6-1, good for at least second place and perhaps a share of the title should Hamilton Heights have a slip next week.
The Kings’ 15 wins are the most by a Cass team since the 2006-07 squad finished 19-6. The MIC showing is the best since a runner-up finish in 2004.
“This group of seniors decided at the banquet last year that they weren’t going to be a mediocre team like we had been the last couple years,” Kitchel said. “They put it on their shoulders that they were going to work hard and improve their shooting. We haven’t been a great shooting team, but all the time they put in over the summer and the offseason has really paid off for them this year. It’s a great bunch of seniors.”
MIC STANDINGS MIC All Ham. Heights 5-0 14-3 Cass 6-1 15-2 Western 5-2 11-6 Northwestern 4-3 9-8 Peru 2-4 6-11 Eastern 2-4 3-13 Taylor 1-5 5-11 Maconaquah 0-6 4-11