BY TRAVIS MILLER
LAFAYETTE — During a regular season in which the Kokomo Wildkats won a record-tying 19 games, McCutcheon gave them one of their closest games. On Jan. 5, Kokomo escaped with a 51-50 win at Memorial Gym on a late basket and defensive stop.
In Saturday night’s Class 4A Lafayette Jeff Sectional final, the No. 8-ranked Wildkats made sure there would be no escape needed the second time around. Kokomo led by as many as 34 points before putting in the subs and cruising to a 64-43 win over the Mavericks and a third straight sectional title.
“We only beat them by one in the regular season and [Saturday] we wanted to prove that we were better,” Kokomo junior Tayler Persons said. “They had all the hype after hitting the 80-foot shot to win [Friday] night and they made it on SportsCenter, but we wanted to come out and prove we were the best team.”
McCutcheon had plenty of momentum after sophomore Tre’Shon Heard hit an 80-foot desperation shot to beat Logansport 56-53 in Friday’s semifinal round. ESPN’s Sportscenter aired the play Saturday morning, but the Wildkats removed any suspense from the final with a dominant first half.
After an early 5-5 tie, Kokomo (22-2) blew the game open with a 22-0 run, holding McCutcheon (15-9) scoreless for nearly 11 minutes.
During the run Persons asserted himself extremely well, hitting three 3-pointers and scoring 15 of the 22 points. That boost allowed Kokomo to lead 29-7 at the half, and the second quarter may have been the best quarter of basketball Kokomo has played all season.
“We’ve had some very good quarters this year, like holding Huntington North 22-0 to start,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “[Saturday] was phenomenal, though. That was a big-time quarter in a big-time game. I am proud of the guys. Their intensity level was phenomenal. McCutcheon is a very good team. They’re patient and well coached and our guys just came out and our intensity level overwhelmed them. Everyone contributed.”
Even with the big halftime lead, Kokomo remained in attack mode. Erik Bowen scored all eight of his points in the third period as Kokomo pushed its lead to 33-7 before McCutcheon scored again. McCutcheon post Trevor Lockwood had six of his eight points in the third, but Kokomo led 43-13 after three and 58-24 with 3:37 left before clearing the bench.
Kokomo held Lockwood in check with only eight points and three rebounds after he had a big game against of 16 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots against Kokomo in the regular season.
“The first time around [the Mavs] outrebounded us by six and [Saturday] we out-rebounded them by six,” McCauley said. “We had a plus-22 rebounding turnaround and they were missing some shots and not getting second chances. That was a big key for us.”
Persons led Kokomo with 19 points and seven rebounds,. LaBradford Sebree finished with 17 points while senior Kylee Beheler added seven rebounds. Kokomo also held Heard scoreless after his Friday night heroics.
Kokomo’s sectional title is its 73rd all-time, extending the Kats’ own state record.
Kokomo advances to the Marion Regional for the third straight season and will face No. 1-ranked Carmel, which ripped North Central 58-38 in the Carmel Sectional final.
Kokomo and Carmel are no strangers. The Greyhounds beat the Kats 52-48 in last year’s regional semifinal round on their way to winning the Class 4A state championship. This season, the Greyhounds beat Kokomo 54-46 on Jan. 12 in a game that was within a point with two minutes left.
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