By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — In the words of Kokomo boys basketball coach Brian McCauley, New Castle is a frustrating team to play at times.
Friday night, the Wildkats dominated nearly every significant statistical category in their matchup with the Trojans at Memorial Gym, but New Castle refused to yield before the Kats were able to grind out a 53-46 win in the squads’ 100th meeting.
The victory for Kokomo marked the seventh straight win in the series between teams that may have been playing for the final time in the regular season. New Castle left the North Central Conference prior to this season, and the teams are not slated to play each other next season at this time, although Kokomo’s schedule is not officially finalized.
“We’ve done it for seven straight years, and that’s the longest winning streak against New Castle in well over 100 years of high school basketball for Kokmo, so I’m proud of the guys over the past several years for the defensive discipline they’ve had. And, the toughness,” McCauley said.
Kokomo (5-0) did a number on New Castle defensively and dominated the boards, allowing the Trojans no second-chance points in the contest while outrebounding them 29-10. That’s the fewest rebounds surrendered by the Wildkats since they held Northwestern to 10 in a game during the 1989-90 season.
The Kats also outscored NC 20-10 in the paint, including a 10-4 mark in the first half, helping Kokomo hold a 21-17 advantage at the half.
“Our guys did a good job of playing to our strengths. … we did a tremendous job on the boards [Friday] night,” McCauley said. “They got one shot pretty much all night. That’s significant. The guys are extremely coachable. They’re a great group that’s hungry. They work hard day in a day out, and I’m just really proud of everyone’s contributions. We really needed everyone to make the plays they made. It was a collective effort.”
New Castle (4-6) entered the night shooting 45 percent from 3-point range as a team, but was limited to 27 percent Friday on 6-of-22 firing. That included an 18-percent performance in the first half (2 of 11).
“We’re a team, with our size, that has to be able to shoot the ball well to be successful,” NC coach Daniel Cox said. “We did that in spurts, but you can’t just be a jumpshooting team and hope things go well. We need to get to the free throw line more and make them guard the dribble drive.”
New Castle shot just seven free throws (hitting 4 of 7) to further help Kokomo, which hit 12 of its 16 shots from the floor in the second half.
After taking a 33-29 lead into the fourth, the Kats stretched their lead out to 46-36 with 2:11 to play after holding NC scoreless during a critical four-minute stretch of the fourth. New Castle got no closer than five the rest of the way.
Demarius Warren led Kokomo with 14 points, while Jordan Matthews added 13 points off the bench to keep the Kats afloat as they navigated foul trouble. Erik Bowen added 11 points and five rebounds, and Mykal Cox added seven points, six assists and five boards despite playing the final four minutes with four fouls.
Abe Haler led New Castle with 17 points. He entered the night hitting 50 percent from beyond the arc, but was 0 for 7 Friday. Andrew Garrett added 13 points in the loss for the Trojans.
FINAL New Castle 46 Kokomo 53 Next: Kokomo hosts Carmel tonight.