Kokomo's boys basketball team turned to a new tradition while playing its traditional opener against Western on Wednesday.
The new tradition: unearthing a gem.
Kokomo got a great game out of senior Demarius Warren. The 6-foot-5 forward scored 15 points as the Wildkats took control early and sailed to a 72-50 victory over the visiting Panthers in Memorial Gym.
Warren, who played less than a minute of varsity action his entire junior season, shined in his first extensive minutes with the Kokomo varsity. Working intelligently in the offense, he cut to open spots to score on seven shots without missing once, took five rebounds, and showed the disruptive defensive presence Wildkat coach Brian McCauley loves.
"I look at the stat chart and he didn't miss a shot," McCauley said. "Demarius Warren, he's another remarkable story of guys sticking with it in our basketball program. He kind of reminds me of Huston Clark. Huston Clark came out of nowhere and he was just a phenomenal player, one of the most improved players in our program. And then Kylee Beheler does the same thing. Now it's Demarius Warren's turn. He got off to a great start."
As did the entire squad. Kokomo's starting guards put the Kats in good spots. Mykal Cox scored a team-high 16 points and had six assists, and Jeron Gray added a dozen points and four assists. Forward Erik Bowen added 15 points and was commanding on the glass with a dozen rebounds.
"Every kid played well," McCauley said. "Mykal Cox with his playmaking ability, his vision of the court, and then Jeron Gray was fantastic, 12 points, he drew six fouls, four assists, and zero turnovers for a first varsity start. How about that? Then Jordan Matthews came in [off the bench] and was really good, really tough. Jazimar Woodard was solid. Those four guards were really good. Erik, he had a double-double, as a senior leader. I thought Marcelle Kenner gave us solid minutes."
Kokomo took a 21-13 lead at the first stop. The first quarter offered a clear look at how Kokomo turned the game its way. Kokomo outrebounded Western 9-1 in the quarter. Brad Dockemeyer snagged two offensive rebounds on missed free throws, first leading to a Cox bucket, then converting the second for a 3-point play.
The Kats had eight offensive rebounds by halftime and held a 35-22 lead on the scoreboard.
Kokomo pushed the lead up to 20 points at 46-26 midway through the second half on nearly identical feeds to Warren. First, Gray drove into the lane, drew defenders and delivered a good feed to a knifing Warren for a layup. The next possession was nearly identical, except with Cox supplying the pass.
"That really broke their back," McCauley said.
Kokomo's lead was never smaller than 18 points after that.
Western got 19 points out of guard Des Balentine, but Kokomo limited Evan Warden to five as the Kats made it a priority to keep the dangerous Panther backcourt from driving and getting to the foul line. Wing player Austin Weaver had eight points.
"I'll tell you what, them coming out in a 3-2 [zone] really disrupted us," Western coach Bart Miller said. "I take the blame for that. I had us prepared for a zone but not a 3-2 zone. I think that really disrupted our guard play. Another thing ... I didn't think we were able to get the ball out and up the floor as quick as we needed [in transition], without them pressing."
Every Western starter attempted a 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the first quarter. Western finished 7 of 26 from 3-land.
"We had some open shots that didn't go down," Miller said. "Our shooting wasn't necessarily on, but we decided to live and die by the that 3 and [Wednesday] night we died by it."