Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 18, 2012

Wildkats’ relentless defense smothers Braves

No. 8 Kokomo forces 31 turnovers.

By JOSH SIGLER
KOKOMO TRIBUNE

— From 1950 to 1994, Kokomo and Maconaquah met in the championship round of the old single-class boys basketball sectional 10 times, with the Wildkats coming out on top in each of those meetings.

For the second year in a row, the Kats gave their fans a flashback to yesteryear, making sure the dominance of their Miami County counterparts continued in the Coca-Cola Old School Sectional tournament.

The Class 4A No. 8-ranked Wildkats imposed their will on the Braves in the opening round of the Old School tournament Tuesday night, blowing the doors off their opponents in an 81-37 thrashing in Memorial Gym.

Kokomo, which also whipped Mac in the opening round last year, will meet Taylor in Friday’s semifinal round.

The Wildkats’ harassing full-court pressure made life miserable for the Braves throughout. Kokomo finished the night with 23 steals as Maconaquah turned the ball over 31 times.

The Kats took a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter, then outscored the Braves 35-7 over the final eight minutes to nail down the victory.

“I really like our defensive effort,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “Maconaquah is a very good offensive team, in my opinion. They drive the ball well and rebound very well. ... They do a good job of scoring, and I thought our awareness of where there shooters were and our ability to take away the paint were excellent.”

Kokomo (7-0) overcame a sluggish start offensively to take a 12-11 lead into the second stanza. The Kats committed six turnovers in the opening quarter, allowing Maconaquah to hang around.

The Kats took control in the second quarter with the help of its relentless pressure. Maconaquah committed 13 turnovers in the second stanza, with eight of those coming on Kokomo steals.

The disarray offensively limited Maconaquah to six points on 3-for-4 shooting as Kokomo stretched its lead out to 29-17 by intermission.

The Braves (3-3) weathered the storm momentarily in the third quarter, but could not close the gap to any closer than 10 points as all seven of their turnovers came via Kokomo steals.

Kokomo senior LaBradford Sebree poured in 13 points in the third quarter, helping the Kats take a 46-30 lead into the final stanza.

The Kats put away any thought of a Maconaquah comeback with a 22-5 surge through the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. Erik Bowen led the charge in the final period for Kokomo with 13 of his game-high 19 points.

“[Kokomo] came out there in the fourth quarter and went on a little run, and I don’t want to say we gave up, but you could just see the look on our guys’ eyes,” Maconaquah coach Andy Steele said. “We panicked and started making questionable passes, and tried to do too much individually. In the end, that killed us.”

Freshman reserve guard Jeron Gray picked up the slack defensively in the fourth quarter with the bulk of Kokomo’s starters watching from the bench, nabbing three of the Kats’ six steals in the frame.

“[Our guards] were so active in our press,” McCauley said. “We were able to create some offense from our defense. Their athleticism and anticipation really created for us.”

Sebree added 17 points and four steals in the victory, while Gray, Tayler Persons, Hakim Burnett and Dylan Orbaugh each added eight points. Kylee Beheler pulled down a game-high nine rebounds. Kokomo outrebounded Maconaquah 31-17 for the contest.

Micah Pier finished with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting to lead Maconaquah before fouling out with 4:07 to play in the game. Adam Harts added 11 points and Tyler Bradley chipped in eight, while K.J. Walton pulled down a team-high five boards.