By BRYAN GASKINS Kokomo Tribune
---- — Mother Nature played havoc with the final round of the Howard County boys basketball tournament. There were a pair of postponements and also a change of venue.
Western was more than ready when it finally took the court for the championship game.
The Panthers used red-hot shooting to rip Taylor 76-49 Wednesday night at Northwestern. The Panthers shot 26 of 42 from the field overall (62 percent) and 11 of 18 from 3-point range (61 percent).
“Mainly all Coach [Bart Miller] was talking about was focus from the get-go,” Western guard Des Balentine said. “We came out with a lot of focus and we were just hot from the beginning, and defense was excellent.”
No one was hotter than Balentine. The Panther junior made his first seven shots from the field — including four from 3-land — and finished 8 of 10 overall and 4 of 5 from 3-land. He scored a game-high 22 points and also had five assists and four rebounds.
“I was telling the assistants that this was the best I probably felt all year because of having a long break, practices off and games off,” he said. “I was able to rest up and take care of my body.”
Fellow perimeter players Austin Weaver (13 points) and Evan Warden (12) also were hot. Weaver made 3 of 5 3-point attempts. Warden was 5 of 6 overall and 2 of 2 from 3-land.
“We had a really good shooting night,” Miller said. “Shot selection, I thought, was a big key.”
Western (6-3) grabbed control in the first quarter when it hit 9 of 12 shots from the field including 5 of 7 from 3-range in building a 24-12 lead.
Up 40-23 at halftime, the Panthers broke the game wide open with another 9-of-12 shooting performance in the third quarter. They were 6 of 9 from 3-land in the quarter with Balentine and Weaver hitting two apiece. They had a 66-37 lead when the dust settled.
Taylor coach Andy Lewman could only shake his head at Western’s hot first and third quarters.
“When an opponent hits that many shots in the first and third quarters, it’s hard to [stay in contention]. We didn’t show up to contest things like we had talked about and they hit shots,” Lewman said.
“When you’re playing from behind, it’s hard to get things going, and we didn’t do a very good job of taking care of the basketball,” he added.
Western’s lead peaked at 35 in the fourth quarter.
Mo Townsend added eight points for the Panthers and Mitchell Shahan had six points and a team-high seven rebounds.
“A great team win,” Miller said. “I’m very proud of the guys. Anytime you’re able to win a county title against the other three county schools, it’s nice for the kids.”
Latrell Mitchell led Taylor (3-6) with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Calvin Wheeler added 12 points. Wheeler picked up two early fouls and the Titans struggled without the point guard on the floor.
NORTHWESTERN 52, EASTERN 32
Northwestern shook off a sluggish start to whip Eastern 52-32 in the consolation game.
Northwestern coach Jim Gish noted a lack of consistent gym time led to the Tigers’ up-and-down performance.
“We have a team that works hard and they need a game plan and some preparation. Mother Nature is just not working with us right now,” he said. “We know there are going to be some inconsistencies. We’re by no means playing our best basketball right now and you don’t want to be playing your best basketball [in mid-January].
“We do have a lot of kids contributing. I’m happy with the fact that we had some guys come off the bench, do some things that we wanted them to do for our team to have success.”
The Tigers (4-4) used a pair of runs to break away. Tied 10-10 midway through the second quarter, the Tigers outscored the Comets 14-3 over the remainder of the half to build a 24-13 lead.
Midway through the third quarter, the Tigers had a 26-17 lead, then reeled off a 12-2 run to take a 38-19 lead into the final quarter.
The Tigers had 13 different players score. Robert Olsen scored a team-high eight points. Logan Galbraith and Tyler Hudson added seven points each.
Olsen sparked the Tigers’ second-quarter run with a pair of steals and layups.
“Robert is a great athlete,” Gish said. “He doesn’t say a word so you never know that the kid is thinking. He just works really hard for us. He is an intelligent kid. Defensively, he is going to play good, hard defense and not foul and that’s really what we’re looking for.”
Braden Evans led Eastern (1-7) with 10 points. Braden Gibson added seven.