By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Kokomo’s boys basketball team came into the weekend having won 30 of its last 31 home games. The only blip in that run came two years ago against Friday night’s opponent, Huntington North.
“The year we went to state and that was our only home loss,” Kokomo swingman LaBradford Sebree recalled. “Coach [Brian McCauley] just kept reminding us about how they were the only team that beat us. We just wanted to come out and have a good game.”
The Class 4A No. 10-ranked Kats pitched a shocking 21-0 shutout in the first quarter and went on to beat the Vikings 72-58 for their 24th straight home win.
“First quarter was a good quarter,” Sebree said. “We were really focused and understood the scouting report. They had good shooters; we closed out on the shooters and were able to hold them scoreless for the first quarter.
“I’ve been a part of some good quarters, but not [like that] — to hold a good-shooting team to zero points.”
Kokomo improved to 15-2 overall and 5-0 in the North Central Conference. Kokomo has league games remaining against Logansport and Richmond. Richmond is second in the league at 4-1.
“It was a good step in the conference. We hold our own destiny,” Sebree said.
In the first quarter, Kokomo made 9 of 14 shots from the field and committed just two turnovers while Huntington missed all seven of its shots (including five from 3-point range) and had seven turnovers. Tayler Persons scored eight points, highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers that made it 17-0, and Erik Bowen scored seven points.
“It was an outstanding effort by our team in the first quarter,” McCauley said. “We had high energy, we had good focus, we were very active and it led to high-percentage shots. We had good balance in the first quarter, as well.
“That was one of the better quarters we’ve been a part of.”
Kokomo and Huntington basically traded baskets over the middle two quarters. Both teams scored 15 points in the second and both scored 17 in the third. The Kats built a 27-point lead in the final quarter and were up by 24 (66-42) when McCauley pulled his starters midway through the quarter. The Vikings closed the game on a 16-6 run.
“We played better [after the first quarter], but we were physically overmatched,” HN coach Rob Irwin said. “Their two guards [Sebree and Tayler Persons] are huge — you can’t guard them with a normal high school kid. They’re too big for a guard and they’re too good off the dribble for a big guy. They’re a handful.”
Sebree finished with 19 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals. Persons had 19 points, seven assists and three rebounds. They combined to make 16 of 26 shots from the field.
“Physically, [the Kats] just beat us,” Irwin added. “When you look out on the floor, at every single spot, physically they were bigger and stronger than we were. We needed to get off to a good start where we could get the lead so we could keep the possessions down, but we got down so fast.
“They’re very, very good. They’re probably the best team we’ve played this year.”
Also for the Kats, Erik Bowen had a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, Hakim Burnett had 10 points and three steals and Mykal Cox had six points, four assists and two steals off the bench.
Cox had several nice passes in the game.
“He is a pass-first guy and he does that really well,” McCauley said. “He is making his teammates better with his instincts and passing. He does a good job of leading guys off the dribble. He adds another element to our team.”
Kokomo finished with a season-high 18 assists against just eight turnovers.
Noah Reed provided Huntington’s bright spot with a game-high 32 points — obviously all coming over the final three quarters. He drilled 6 of 8 3-points attempts with his only misses coming in the first quarter.
“He obviously was feeling it,” McCauley said. “I thought we gave him a few good looks, but he hit some tough shots, too.”
The Vikings entered the game shooting 41.7 percent from 3-land. They showed that hot touch over the final three quarters, hitting 10 of their final 19 attempts.
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