By Travis Miller
WESTFIELD — A dominant second half was once again the key for Kokomo’s boys basketball team as the Wildkats moved to 2-0 after struggling in the first half for the second straight game. Kokomo outscored host Westfield 46-16 in the second half to turn a 10-point halftime deficit into a 71-51 victory Saturday night.
“I told the guys in the locker room that we’ve played 32 minutes of good basketball so far this season,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “Unfortunately, we’ve played a total of 64 minutes. Obviously it was a tremendous second half, but the first half things weren’t quite there offensively.”
The game started as a clash of styles as Kokomo was content to get to the foul line by cutting to the basket, while Westfield fired away from long range. The Shamrocks hit on four of six three-point attempts in the first quarter but trailed 15-12 after one despite six lead changes.
The Shamrocks then stretched that margin from long range to 7 of 11 for the first half by hitting on three more attempts. After Kokomo pushed ahead 17-14 the Shamrocks went on a 12-0 run thanks to the playmaking ability of Ajay Lawton. The shifty guard had nine points and three rebounds as Westfield outscored Kokomo 23-10 in the quarter to lead 35-25 at halftime.
“We were probably playing a little bit too much one-on-one and we had some turnovers,” McCauley said. “Defensively we didn’t get out on them and they hit some open looks. At times it was just a lack of awareness and that was frustrating.”
The second half saw Kokomo storm out of the locker room as almost a totally different team. The Wildkats used their superior athleticism to turn up the defensive pressure and open with a 10-0 run to tie the game in the first two minutes and 40 seconds of the second half.
Tayler Persons was essential during the run as he scored six of the points on his way to a night that touched virtually every corner of the stat sheet. Persons finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and five steals, most of which came in the second half.
“He played just a tick under 31 minutes and especially in the second half he did a great job of using his strength and his positioning to do a little of everything,” McCauley said. “He saw the floor well and really played a nice basketball game, but we had multiple guys play well.”
After Hakim Burnett tied the game at 35-35 with 5:20 left in the third quarter the teams traded scores until Burnett broke a 41-41 tie with a basket at the 3:08 mark of the third. That put Kokomo in front for good at 43-41, and started a closing 30-10 run that saw the Wildkats pull away in the final 11 minutes.
Kokomo would lead 53-45 after three quarters thanks to Erik Bowen and Persons consistently getting to the basket. An 18-6 final quarter in favor of Kokomo came about from tenacious defense that collected 17 turnovers and 10 steals on the night. Kokomo also shared the basketball well with 17 assists, 12 of which came in the second half.
LaBradford Sebree added 17 points for Kokomo to go with 15 for Bowen and 10 for Burnett. Kokomo also made the Shamrocks pay by getting to the free throw line 23 times and hitting 18 of them compared to only four charity attempts by Westfield.
Kokomo will have its home opener Friday night by hosting Fishers.