By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Kokomo’s boys basketball team had plenty of reasons to feel good Saturday night.
The Class 4A No. 9-ranked Wildkats beat Lafayette Jeff 45-35 at Memorial Gym to complete a weekend sweep of a pair of Sectional 7 opponents, improve to 6-0 overall and extend their home-court winning streak to 18 games. In addition, the Kats received a visit from Hall of Fame coach Basil Mawbey after the game.
Mawbey, who led Kokomo to a state runner-up finish in 1989 and took Connersville (1983) and Lewis Cass (2003, Class 2A) to state titles, was recognized at halftime of the game.
Mawbey told the Kats that he liked what he saw.
“That was great,” Kokomo swingman LaBradford Sebree said. “Coach Mawbey coached my dad [Brad, a 1990 Kokomo graduate]. He was telling us we have the potential to be another state team because we have everything it takes, we just need to keep our focus.”
Current Kokomo coach Brian McCauley also appreciated the postgame talk. McCauley played for Mawbey-coached Kat teams.
“He is a guy who has been at the top,” McCauley said. “For him to come in and give us some insight on what it takes, that means a lot and we really appreciate that. I think our kids really listened to what he said.”
Kokomo threatened to blow out Jeff, jumping to a quick 7-0 advantage and going on to lead 15-5 after the opening quarter, 23-13 at halftime, 31-15 midway through the third quarter and 38-23 early in the fourth quarter. But, Jeff followed with an 8-0 run to draw within seven (38-31) with 5:01 left.
The Bronchos had chances to draw closer, but failed to take advantage. Sebree then took control, snapping the Kats out of their brief funk. He scored six points over a 78-second stretch to give the Kats a 44-33 lead with 1:06 remaining.
“Being a senior, when other teams make a run, I feel like it’s a little bit of my place to kind of counteract it and stop it and just lead my team,” Sebree said.
Kokomo took a similar path to victory against Marion on Friday night. In that one, Kokomo build a 32-15 halftime lead, then saw Marion close to within two in the final minute. The Kats emerged with a 57-55 win.
“We got the win [against Jeff], that’s the most important thing,” Sebree said. “At times we played good — in the first half, like [Friday] night. I think in the second half, our offense got a little stagnant but like Coach always says, we found a way.”
McCauley called it a “grind-out win” and pointed to the Kats’ defense as the key. Kokomo held Jeff to 34.4 percent shooting from the field and forced Jeff into 18 turnovers.
“This time of year, you really have to be tough to defend well and I think we’ve put together some good defensive games,” McCauley said.
Sebree led the Kats with 14 points and six rebounds and he also had two steals. Tayler Persons had 12 points, four assists and four steals. Hakim Burnett had seven points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. And Erik Bowen chipped in seven points and six boards.
Quarin Hood led the Bronchos (3-5) with 12 points.
“I liked the way our kids battled and hung around. We didn’t give in to them,” Jeff coach Scott Radeker said. “It’s just too many turnovers. Some were forced by them, but there were some where we just threw the ball at our guy’s feet and nobody was guarding us. ... Until we learn to have a little more focus and a little more concentration to make a fundamental play, then we’re not going to be able to win games like this.”