By Mark Saluke
RUSSIAVILLE — Turnovers and cold shooting doomed the Kokomo girls basketball team against Western as the Panthers cruised past the Lady Kats, 43-25, Tuesday night at Richard R. Rea Gymnasium.
Carley O’Neal finished with 14 points for Western (6-1) and Caitlyn O’Neal chipped in 10 as the sisters combined for an 8 of 17 shooting performance from the field in the Panthers’ sixth straight win of the year and second over Kokomo in the past three seasons.
“We beat a good team. I couldn’t be prouder of the kids,” Western coach Chris Keisling said. “They did everything we needed. It was just what I wanted to see, a fantastic job of making the game plan work.”
That game plan included a zone defense that held Kokomo (4-3) in check much of the night as the Kats committed 20 turnovers and hit just 9 of 34 shots (27 percent) in the game.
“They did such a great job controlling the basketball and running their offense,” Kokomo coach Jason Snyder said. “They absolutely dominated the time of possession over the first two quarters, and as soon as we got the ball, we were rushing and we turned the ball over again and again.”
A mix of shooting woes and stingy defense left both squads struggling to find the basket early.
“They did a really good job with their half-court zone,” Snyder said. “We played great defense as well. It’s 6-3 at the end of the first quarter.”
Western held the three-point edge heading into the second quarter after shooting just 2 of 15 over the first eight minutes while Kokomo was 1 of 6 from the field. The Panthers turned the tide, going 6 of 9 in the frame, while the Kats continued to struggle (3 of 10).
“Defenses were really tight early,” Keisling said. “As we settled in and began to get a rhythm to our game, our shots began to drop a little more frequently. Our ability to settle into the game and atmosphere, I think that was the difference.”
Five straight points from Carley O’Neal capped a 9-0 Western run that gave the Panthers their first double-digit lead (19-8) and forced a Kokomo timeout with 1:21 to play in the first half.
Kats center Anastacia Kirby dropped out to knock down a 3-pointer that shaved the game back to single digits, 19-11, after the first 16 minutes.
Kirby accounted for nearly all of Kokomo’s scoring. The senior finished with 19 points to go with a team-high five rebounds.
“Anastacia had a great game,” Snyder said. “She attacked low and took advantage in the paint. And she stepped out and hit that big 3 for us.”
The Kats turned the ball over right out of the gate to open the second half as Western continued to control the tempo, outscoring Kokomo 11-5 in the third frame to gain a 14-point, 30-16 advantage heading into the final eight minutes.
Aside from an Allison Lindley hoop and Raven Black freebie, the O’Neals took care of Western’s scoring in the fourth quarter with a combined 10 points, while Kirby accounted for all nine of the Kats’ points in the final frame.
Black finished with seven points for the Panthers.
Lindley scored five and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds. Jessica Givens added five points and six boards.