By Pedro Velazco
Kokomo’s boys basketball team got its season started on a winning note Wednesday night when the Wildkats broke open a tight game and took control in the second half for a 52-30 victory over Western in a packed Richard R. Rea Gym.
The teams were tied at 19-19 at halftime following a rebound bucket by Western’s Austin Townsend at the buzzer. Kokomo pushed itself to a higher level in the second half, coming out with a level of energy and execution that the home squad couldn’t match.
LaBradford Sebree got the Kats rolling in the third quarter when he rebounded his own miss, then scored and was fouled to give Kokomo a 22-21 lead. The Kats never trailed again and Sebree was just getting started.
He scored 11 poitns in the quarter en route to a game-high 22-point night. In particular, Sebree found a rhythm with point guard Tayler Persons as the duo worked to get inside Western’s 2-3 zone for scores. Sebree scored three buckets in the third quarter directly off Persons feeds, and added a fourth from Persons on the opening hoop of the fourth quarter to push the Wildkats’ lead to 40-26.
“We did a good job of getting the ball inside-out against their zone,” Wildkat coach Brian McCauley said. “LaBradford Sebree did a nice job of making some cuts. We did a nice job of post entries and finishing strong around the basket.
“I think all of our guys did a great job of understanding what we wanted to get accomplished coming out of halftime.”
Kokomo pushed its lead to 44-26 on a transition hoop where Persons fed Sebree early in the fourth quarter to finish off a 10-0 run and finish off the Panthers. Persons finished with nine points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
Getting scores in the paint was a key.
“Second half they were able to get the ball inside,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “We tried to make an adjustment at halftime that our players just weren’t able to complete. We knew they were wanting to get the ball inside into the lane area. They were just bigger and stronger than we were and were able to hold their position.”
On the other end, Western was trying to do the same thing but found it tough to get the ball into good positions against Kokomo’s 2-3 defense that was active inside and out.
“We were great in the first half. We executed a lot better in the first half. Second half ... I honestly don’t remember but one time that we got the ball down into the post, like they did, against their zone,” Miller said.
Western hit just 11 of 36 shots for the game. Evan Warden led the Panthers with a dozen points, and Austin Weaver added eight.
“We scored, and obviously when you’re scoring your defense gets a little better, it’s amazing how that works,” McCauley said of his squad’s defensive energy in the second half. “We were scoring and then we were able to get them sped up just a little bit, just a tick.
“Kylee Beheler did a great job of rebounding. Erik [Bowen] was phenomenal, ad a double double, did a great job of anchoring our defense. And our bench play was tremendous.”
Bowen had 11 points and a dozen rebounds for Kokomo, while Behler added five boards. Sebree had six as the Kats outrebounded Western 41-24.
“Rebounding — we knew that was going to be an issue coming in,” Miller said. “Not that we didn’t have guys crashing the boards, we just weren’t able to get to it. Their strength and athleticism really bothered us especially on the offensive glass.”
McCauley also noted key performances from bench players Hakim Burnett (six points), Jeron Gray, Brad Dockemeyer and Mykal Cox (four points). Kokomo went to its bench enough to keep the energy level high all game.
It added up to a satisfying performance overall for the Wildkats.
“Western is a very good team they’re going to continue to get better,” McCauley said. “When you’re playing on the road you have to come out with a lot of energy so I’m pleased with our effort.”
Western got nine rebounds and four points from Austin Townsend, and five rebounds from Warden and Ronnie Smith.
The Panthers played without Kyle Mendenhall and Brad Hemmeger, who are out for six games due to violations of team rules.