By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
In a regular-season finale between a pair of squads capable of making deep runs in the Class 4A boys basketball state tournament, No. 8-ranked Kokomo topped Fort Wayne Northrop 65-61 in overtime Friday night at Memorial Gym.
The back-and-forth battle featured 17 lead changes and 10 ties. Neither team led by more than four points in the second half and overtime.
“I am proud of our guys,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “We didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch, but once again our guys showed a lot of character and we made some important plays when we had to. ... Give a lot of credit to Fort Wayne Northrop. They’re a very good team and it could have gone either way.”
Kokomo improved to 19-2. Northrop dropped to 16-7.
“It was a grind-out game,” Kokomo junior guard Tayler Persons said. “We were down most of the game, we just made runs at the end and we [closed] strong like we always do. It’s an amazing team — even if our shots aren’t falling or we’re turning it over or something, we always are clutch at the end of the game.”
Northrop defensive hawk Bryson Scott hounded Persons all night in an excellent matchup of physical guards. The Purdue recruit held Persons scoreless until nearly halfway through the fourth quarter, but Persons was clutch during winning time, scoring 17 of the Kats’ final 23 points.
“[Scott] is a really good player. He’s an Indiana All-Star, Mr. Basketball candidate, but I don’t back down from anyone. We went at it all night and we came out on top and that is all that matters,” Persons said.
Persons complemented his scoring with six rebounds and six assists.
Persons was just one of several Kat standouts against the Bruins. LaBradford Sebree had a team-high 19 points, including 16 in the first three quarters to keep the Kats even with the Bruins. Erik Bowen had 14 points and six boards, Hakim Burnett netted eight points, Mykal Cox dished seven assists and Kylee Beheler had four rebounds and three steals.
Northrop led 10-9 after the first quarter and 23-22 at halftime. Kokomo was up 37-36 after three quarters.
The Bruins held a 44-42 advantage with 5:00 remaining in regulation when Persons cracked the scoring column. He recorded pair of hoop-and-harm three-point plays to give the Kats a 48-44 lead at 4:03.
Northrop answered with back-to-back 3-pointers, from Indiana State-bound Brenton Scott and twin Bryson Scott, to go up 50-48 at 2:44. Kokomo knotted the score when Cox fed Beheler for an inside basket, then Bryson Scott hit two free throws for a 52-50 lead at 2:21.
Kokomo hit the offensive glass to forge a 52-all tie. First, Beheler grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled. He missed both free throws, but Persons chased down the board and hit a short jumper.
Following a Northrop turnover, Persons hit two free throws for a 54-52 Kat lead at 1:25. Bryson Scott quickly answered with a hoop off a nice cut to the basket at 1:11.
From there, Kokomo held for the final possession — but following a timeout at :16, Bryson Scott forced Persons into a five-second violation at :02. Brenton Scott missed a corner 3 at the buzzer, sending the game to OT.
The Kats jumped to a 58-55 lead in the extra session, but then committed a pair of turnovers and the Bruins cashed both in for buckets and a 59-58 lead at 1:19. Persons then righted the ship with a huge 3-pointer at 1:05.
Bryson Scott forged one last tie (61-61) with a pair of free throws at :42. Hakim Burnett gave the Kats the lead for good with two free throws at :21. Brenton Scott missed a runner in the lane in the closing seconds and Persons sealed the Kats’ 27th straight home win with two free throws at :00.4.
“Our crowd was great, it was wonderful for senior night,” Persons said. “Two years without losing a game at Memorial Gym, it’s just amazing how hard we play.”
The Kats’ senior class features three-year starter Sebree, Beheler, Burnett, Montanez Fowler, Dylan Orbaugh and Jesse Broomfield.
“It was a lot of fun to send our seniors off from their last home game with a W,” McCauley said.
Bryson Scott led Northrop with a game-high 26 points, five rebounds and four steals. Brenton Scott followed with 13 and Cory Womack had 11.
“We expected a great game. We knew Kokomo is very well coached, very talented, they have a good group, and this is a tough place to play,” Northrop coach Barak Coolman said. “We came in, didn’t execute as well as we should have at the beginning, kind of let the hype and the emotion of the game get to us. I think a key point was we had a five-point lead in the second quarter and had some empty possessions right there — that made a big difference.”
• Kokomo’s JV team capped an 18-1 season with a 44-28 victory Friday night. Brandon Wilson scored a game-high 20 points.
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