New Castle —
The Wildkats led by as many as seven in the second half, but connected on just one of their first eight field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, allowing the Panthers to snatch momentum before holding Kokomo off in the closing seconds.
“That stretch was definitely the difference in the game,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “We needed a good start [to the fourth quarter], and we needed a little bit better shot selection. We didn’t come out and execute as well as we needed to, and that’s when [North Central point guard] Ronnie [Johnson] went on that spurt.
“It was a combination of us not executing quite as well as we needed to offensively, and it enabled North Central to play to its strength.”
Kokomo took a 58-56 lead into the final stanza after leading by as much as seven in the third quarter after back to back putbacks from Armon Bridgeforth and Tony Moses gave Kokomo a 51-44 advantage with 2:50 to play in the third.
Johnson, a Purdue commit, took advantage of Kokomo’s shaky start to the fourth which included an 0-for-4 clip from the field and two turnovers in the first 2:22. He scored a pair of layups in transition, and found Darius Latham for a post deuce to finish off a 10-0 run and give the Panthers a 64-58 lead with 5:17 to play.
Balentine entered the day needing 25 points to reach the 1,000-point mark from his career. He scored 23 in the first three periods on 8-of-15 shooting, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range. His sixth trey of the contest came from the corner with 58 seconds to play to put him over the milestone and pull Kokomo to within 67-66.
The Panthers hit 4 of 5 free throws in the final minute to help seal the win before Bridgeforth’s desperation, double-clutch 3 attempt missed the mark at the buzzer.
Bridgeforth added 12 points for the Kats, and LaBradford Sebree and Tayler Persons both finished with 10.
Johnson led the Panthers with 16 points.