NOBLESVILLE — It took a Herculean effort against the home team for Kokomo’s boys basketball team to avoid going winless in the Noblesville Holiday Tournament on Saturday night. Kokomo trailed by 16 halfway through the third period and looked on its way to an 0-3 showing in the tournament, but a substitution by coach Brian McCauley lit a spark under the Wildkats.
With 4:41 left in the game, McCauley sent in Jeron Gray, Jazimar Woodard and Brandon Wilson as the Kats trailed 33-17. The three helped ignite a turnaround that saw Kokomo close the game on a 21-3 run in the final 12 minutes and steal a 38-36 win over the host Millers.
“I am so proud of this team. It was a phenomenal win,” McCauley said. “[This] took a lot of character and integrity and it felt like a season-defining win. Our body language was a little down there, but we made about every play we had to make.”
It was Woodard who made an immediate impact, as he connected on a 3-pointer assisted by Mykal Cox just 25 seconds after the substitution. Cox then added a basket of his own before Woodard assisted Jeron Gray on a 3-pointer.
That trimmed Noblesville’s lead to 33-25 in just over two minutes, and the teams traded a pair of free throws that left the Millers up 35-27 going into the final quarter.
Kokomo’s defense keyed the comeback. Kokomo allowed only a single point in the final period. After Justin Peagues scored on a layup and added a free throw for a three-point play that pushed the lead to 16 with 4:41 left in the third, Noblesville did not hit another field goal.
“We changed our defense after we fell behind 8-0 and I really have to credit kids like Erik Bowen and Jordan Matthews,” McCauley said. “[Matthews] didn’t play well offensively, but what he did bring was toughness on the defensive end. Without his ability to defend on the perimeter, we don’t get those stops at the end.”
Kokomo (3-5) still started the fourth quarter slowly, as neither team scored in the first two minutes. Bowen cut the lead to 35-30 on a hoop-and-harm three-point play with 5:52 left and after a pair of stops, Kokomo got within a possession with 3:50 left when Wilson scored inside on an assist from Cox.
Jack Trittipo got Noblesville’s only point of the quarter on a free throw at 3:36 to make it 36-32, but Bowen cut that in half on a layup at 3:06 and Kokomo finally tied the game on a steal and score by Cox at 1:30.
Noblesville followed that with a turnover and Kokomo was able to hold for the final shot. With four seconds left, Bowen was able to corral a loose ball and scored to give Kokomo its only lead of the game.
Noblesville had one more chance, but a 30-foot 3-pointer from Sean Wilson was short as time expired.
“Bowen really played like an Indiana All-Star candidate,” McCauley said. “It was a very physical game for him and he was able to deliver by scoring 15 points and getting to the free throw line eight times while hitting seven.”
Bowen was named to the all-tourney team.
After the Millers shot an impressive 64.7 percent from the field in the first half, Kokomo put the clamps down defensively, holding them to 20 percent shooting (3 of 15) in the second half. Conversely, Kokomo improved from 23.5 percent in the first half to 56.3 percent in the second half.
Cox provided a huge boost for Kokomo with nine points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals.