By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
The seniors on Tipton’s boys basketball team made the most of their last shot to beat Kokomo.
Indiana All-Star candidate Mike Crawford scored 35 points and Blake Hoover hit a game-winning 3-pointer with :05 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting the Class 2A No. 3-ranked Blue Devils past the Class 4A No. 8 Wildkats 57-56 in a thriller Saturday night.
“It feels good,” Hoover said. “We played them really well the past few years I’ve been here, but had some close losses. It feels really good to finally get them once. That is a good team.”
Tipton (14-1) snapped a four-game losing streak in the long-running series and earned its first home-court victory over the Kats since the 1982-83 season. Saturday marked just the fourth time since the 1962-63 season that the Blue Devils were able to best the Kats at home.
“All week, we’ve been preparing for this game,” said Crawford, who also had nine rebounds and two assists. “There was nothing more that I wanted to do than beat Kokomo this year. It was the only team in the regular season that I had never beat. It’s very fulfilling.”
Hoover was a thorn in the Kats’ side. In addition to hitting the game-winning shot, he hounded Kokomo guard Tayler Persons into an off night. Persons finished with a season-low four points — 13 below his season average — and had five turnovers along with six assists and six rebounds.
“I liked it when [coach Brad Dickey] pointed me out to [defend Persons], but my teammates helped me a lot on it. I couldn’t do it by myself. As a group, we did great,” Hoover said.
Kokomo (12-2) seemed in control in the overtime session. Hakim Burnett hit a baseline jumper for a 56-52 lead with 1:19 remaining. After Tipton’s Nate Friend scored inside to make it 56-54 at :52, Persons went to the line for a one-and-bonus at :21.3. He missed the front end and the Devils rebounded.
Following a timeout at :13.5, Hoover found himself with a clean look on the left wing.
“We had Mason [Degenkolb], who is a really good shooter, go to the corner and we had Mike off the down screen. They covered that good and just left me. I just took the shot I do every day at practice,” Hoover said.
Crawford had full confidence in Hoover to take and make the shot.
“He has been my best friend since sixth grade when he moved here,” Crawford said. “I knew he could [make the shot] and I had all the faith in him. I knew when he shot the ball it was going in.”
Kokomo had one final shot at the win, but Persons’ running jumper from the top of the key missed, setting off a court charging by Tipton’s student section.
The OT session capped a tense, back-and-forth game. Kokomo was up 15-13 after the opening quarter and Tipton led 29-27 at halftime at which point Crawford had 19 points on near-perfect shooting — 6 of 7 from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-land, and 5 of 5 from the free throw line.
Kokomo held a 40-39 advantage after three quarters and was up 50-45 with 2:09 left in regulation, but Crawford hit a pair of free throws at 1:26 and Degenkolb took a charge on Persons at 1:07 to give the Devils possession. Crawford then hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key at :40 to forge a 50-all tie.
Hoover forced Persons into a five-second violation at :09.9, giving the Blue Devils a shot to win in regulation, but Crawford missed a contested drive in the closing seconds.
The game featured nine lead changes and eight ties.
“That was obviously a fun game,” Tipton coach Brad Dickey said. “We never stopped trying. Our kids kind of believe in each other and that was a great way to end it, to have our two seniors really leading the way and making the big plays.”
Crawford had nine rebounds to go with his 35 points. Hoover finished with nine points.
Burnett led the Kats with 16 points, LaBradford Sebree had 15 points and Erik Bowen had 13 points and seven rebounds.
Kokomo lost despite shooting 59.1 percent from the field. Coach Brian McCauley pointed to the Blue Devils’ 14-7 advantage in offensive rebounds and free throw shooting as differences in the game. The Devils shot 10 of 12 from the line while the Kats struggled at the line, making just 3 of 7.
“Obviously [the loss] hurts, but first of all, congratulations to Tipton. They’re an outstanding team led by an Indiana All-Star and they played really well,” McCauley said. “They showed a lot of toughness. They were scrapping, they got to offensive rebounding which is just effort, they were on the floor, they were taking charges — those all are toughness plays.”
McCauley noted his players had their share of toughness plays as well and he noted several things he liked about his team’s effort, individually and collectively. He called the Kats’ shot selection “the best” of the season.
“It’s just two very good teams going at it,” he said.