By Pedro Velazco
Kokomo’s boys basketball team played a road game Friday night in what has been a hostile environment for many teams venturing to Miami County.
The Tig-Arena was hostile Friday — to the home team. Visiting Kokomo made sure of that. The Class 4A No. 7 Wildkats opened the game on a 9-0 run and didn’t relent until Erik Bowen canned a triple at the halftime buzzer for a 43-18 lead. The Wildkats went on to post a convincing 77-48 victory over Peru.
Kokomo forced 25 Peru turnovers and blistered the nets on 33 of 55 shooting as they improved to 10-0 on the season.
“They don’t set back and let the other team deliver that first blow,” first-year Peru coach Jim Metcalf said. “They take it right to you from the start and they play with that confidence, like they own the gym.”
Tayler Persons set the tone for Kokomo. He scored the game’s first seven points. He started with a second-chance layup after an offensive rebound from Kat center Kylee Beheler, then hit a jumper, and next canned a triple. When LaBradford Sebree took a defensive rebound coast-to-coast for a deuce, it made the score 9-0 Kats with 4:50 left in the quarter and triggered Peru’s first timeout of the night.
“This is a tough place to play,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “Our guys came out and they were hungry, they had some energy in their step and some aggression in their eye.”
Persons finished with a game-high 24 points, followed by Sebree with 20. Hakim Burnett came off the bench to score 16 on efficient 7-of-8 shooting (with two freebies added in). Bowen scored nine points and in total nine Kats scored.
Kokomo was particularly effective in transition where Sebree, Persons and Burnett kept making opportunities for quick buckets after Peru turnovers. Sebree had a sequence in the fourth quarter where he went to the ground to rescue a loose ball and fed Bowen for a deuce, then followed with two fast-break hoops to push Kokomo’s advantage to 66-41 after Peru had outscored the Kats by three points in the third quarter.
Persons’ nearly full-court pass provided the last hoop of Sebree’s flurry. Persons finished with five assists, and guard Mykal Cox added three more in his first start of the season.
“Our guys did a great job of once again creating offense from our defense,” McCauley said. “Getting deflections was huge. Hakim had six deflections on the night. Kylee had six, Mykal Cox had four or five — the deflections that led to steals that led to the passes that led to the layups. That’s fun. The guys did a really good job of that.”
The Kats were a menace on defense all game, disrupting Peru’s halfcourt and preventing looks for Peru wing shooter Logan Primerano and posts Joe Comerford and Seth Adelsperger. Primerano finished with a team-best 18 points, and Comerford followed with 13, but the two had just 10 points total at halftime.
“They just throw so many different things at you,” Metcalf said of Kokomo. “Defensively, they play five or six different defenses and keep you off balance. Offensively, they’re solid, they don’t make mistakes. Every guy can catch and make a shot. The ball leaves their hand, you feel pretty confident it’s going in. Our guys have to get to that level.”
Kokomo was more varied than usual out of necessity. Starters Cox, Sebree and Beheler each got two fouls in the opening half and sat the bench for the rest of the half. The Kats used 10 different players in the first two quarters and kept getting sparks each time they went to the bench. Besides Burnett’s scoring, Brad Dockemeyer took a team-high six rebounds, and Montanez Fowler, Dylan Orbaugh and Jeron Gray provided key minutes in the first half. The Kats led by 14 points, 21-7, at the end of the first quarter, and pushed the lead out to 25 points by halftime.
“I thought our bench play was outstanding once again, from Brad and Hakim and Dylan and Jeron and Monte. They did a phenomenal job,” McCauley said.
Primerano led Peru (3-6) in rebounding with six, and added four assists. The lanky sophomore was particularly hard to stop when he decided to take defensive rebounds end to end.
““That’s a good basketball team we faced, probably one of the best in the state of Indiana, coached by a guy that’s probably one of the best coaches in the state of Indiana,” Metcalf said. “You’ve got to hand it to our kids for how they kept competing, kept playing, didn’t let the way the game was going affect how we played.”
Metcalf, a Peru graduate, and McCauley, a Kokomo product, have been friends since fifth grade. They are both 1996 grads and squared off in Kat-Bengal games as teens. Metcalf is impressed with the squad his friend has assembled.
“This team right now is as good if not better than any team he’s had since Brian has been here,” Metcalf said. “They’re just constantly attacking you. They keep you on your heels the whole time. If you don’t attack their pressure, you’re going to be in trouble all night.”