Fort Wayne — A hostile environment with an amped-up cheerblock and emotional opponent celebrating its senior class’ final game in front of the home fans? For Kokomo’s boys basketball team, it was just what the doctor ordered for a regular-season finale.
The Class 4A No. 8-ranked Wildkats weathered all the circumstances, and with a career-high 23 points from Erik Bowen, defeated the 4A No. 9 Northrop Bruins 68-58 Friday night at Mark Schoeff Gymnasium to wrap up the regular season with an 18-4 record.
Kokomo will enter sectional play having won 11 of its last 12 games, bouncing back from last week’s overtime loss at Richmond.
“The career-high is awesome, but we wanted this win really bad,” said Bowen, who also had a career-high 11 rebounds. “Going into the tournament, we wanted to get our momentum rolling. I think that’s what matters the most. Yeah, I played really well, but the win was really one that we needed.”
The Kats struggled a bit out of the gates, connecting on just one of their first six shots from the floor in the first four minutes of the contest. Four Kokomo turnovers in that same span helped the Bruins (18-3) jump to a 12-5 early lead before the Kats cut it to 17-14 at the end of the first quarter with the help of a pair of treys from senior D.J. Balentine.
Sophomore starter Tayler Persons was whistled for his second foul at the 5:47 mark of the opening period, and coach Brian McCauley called on Bowen for a spark. The 6-foot-5 sophomore scored a putback at the 2:25 mark to get started. He erupted for 13 points in the second period, with two buckets coming on putbacks, another from the post and one in transition.
His 3-pointer from the top of the key gave Kokomo a 27-24 lead with 3:50 to play in the first half. Kokomo would not trail again, taking a 32-28 lead into intermission on the back of 15 points from Bowen.