By Josh Sigler
LAFAYETTE — Kokomo’s bid for its first sectional three-peat in the class basketball era is alive and well.
The Class 4A No. 8-ranked Wildkats overpowered the host Jeff Bronchos over the final 10 minutes of Friday’s semifinal contest to pick up a 65-51 victory and improve to 21-2 on the season.
The Bronchos held a 37-36 lead with 2:20 to play in the third quarter before Kokomo finally broke away from Jeff’s grinding style and finished the stanza on an lightning-quick 8-0 run over the final 1:22 to surge ahead. Back-to-back buckets to start the fourth from Erik Bowen and Mykal Cox gave the Kats a 50-37 advantage. Jeff never recovered.
“Just a great gut-it-out win by the guys,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “Sometimes when you win like we did on Tuesday [an 86-56 rout of Marion], you can think ‘Hey, this might be easy.’ Our guys didn’t think that. We obviously have a lot of respect for Jeff. They’re well coached. They really fight and scrap and play hard. Credit them for coming in with a great gameplan, but I want to credit our guys as well for keeping their composure. Sometimes you just have to find ways to win and grind it out.”
Kokomo will face McCutcheon for the sectional title tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Crawley Center. A victory would mark the 16th time in program history the Kats have won at least three sectional crowns in a row, but the first since class basketball was instituted for the 1997-98 season. Kokomo has won a state-record 72 sectional titles overall.
Jeff’s grinding style dominated the storyline through most of the first three quarters. The Bronchos (7-15) packed the paint and tried to make Kokomo keep pace with jumpers. The ploy worked well. Jeff trailed by just two at the end of the first quarter (11-9) and at the half (29-27).
“We weren’t giving up the perimeter jumper, but we knew most of their game was based on getting to the paint and grabbing offensive rebounds,” Jeff coach Scott Radaker said. “We wanted to limit those kinds of shots, and for the most part we did that and hung in there. We came back and took a one-point lead in the third and had all the momentum, and Tayler Persons stepped up and hit some big shots.”
Senior Peter Ripke knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing to pull Jeff even at 36-36 with 3:57 to play in the third. A Lucas Wallace free throw then gave the Bronchos their first lead since the opening seconds of the second quarter.
Enter Persons and LaBradford Sebree.
Sebree knocked down a 17-foot jumper from the top of the key with 1:22 to play in the period. Persons canned a triple from the right wing 24 seconds later. He buried another 3-pointer, this one from the corner, 28 seconds after that to give the Kats a 44-37 lead with 30 seconds to play in the quarter. Persons and Sebree had key steals in the sequence.
“We talked Coach into pressuring them in the full court, because we knew they couldn’t handle our pressure,” Persons said. “He finally let us play us for a little bit, and we went on that 12-0 run. That was the game right there.
“I don’t want to lose any games. I want to win this state championship. Whatever I have to do, that’s how I play. And, my teammates gave me the ball. They all played great, too, so shout out to them.”
Hakim Burnett collected a loose ball and scored on an easy deuce to give Kokomo a 46-37 lead headed to the fourth. Jeff never got off the mat, inching no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Persons finished with a game-high 21 points and added eight rebounds and three steals. Sebree added 17 points and five steals, while Burnett added 13 points and five rebounds.
Wallace led Jeff with 15 points and 13 boards. Ripke added 12 points and five boards. Both are seniors.
McCutcheon (15-8) led Logansport 22-12 at the half in the evening’s second semifinal, only to have the Berries battle back to tie the game in the final minute. Mavericks sophomore Tre’Shon Heard then hit a three-quarter court prayer at the buzzer to lift his team to a 56-53 victory.
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