Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 14, 2012

Kokomo encounters more tests in Marion, Jeff

By Pedro Velazco
Tribune sportswriter

— Old rivals Kokomo and Marion meet tonight in North Central Conference boys basketball action at Marion’s Bill Green Arena.

“It’s a huge game, obviously North Central Conference, a road game for us,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “Marion is one of the best programs in the state of Indiana with seven state titles. Bill Green Arena is always a tough place to play. [It’s a] storied rivalry so it is a fun game for the players and the fans.”

Kokomo enters ranked No. 9 in Class 4A with a 4-0 record overall and 1-0 mark in league play after beating Muncie Central last weekend. Marion is 1-3 with a victory over Irvington Prep Academy. Its losses are to 2A No. 7 Wapahani, Lawrence North and Columbia City. Those three squads boast a combined record of 13-1.

“They’re very fast, very athletic,” McCauley said. “They have six guys that average anywhere from 13 to six points a game. They’re very good shooters and they’ve got some really good rebounders. They do a good job of playing a variety of defenses to try to keep their opponent off balance.”

McCauley noted that Marion’s chemistry is improved this season. He wants the Kats to counter with solid fundamental play and an emphasis on defending in the paint and rebounding in order to deal with Marion’s athleticism and size.

“We really need to be focused right from the start of the game, and we’re going to have to bring a lot of energy playing on the road,” McCauley said. His squad trailed 9-0 to Muncie Central before turning the game its way. “It’ll be a tough environment for sure.”

Point guard Tayler Persons leads a balanced Kat squad at 18 points per game, followed by inside-out player LaBradford Sebree (15 ppg) and forward Erik Bowen (12.5), who adds 9 rebounds per game.

• On Saturday, Kokomo hosts Lafayette Jeff, which is 3-3 heading into tonight’s game with Noblesville.

“They’ve really improved since the first time we [scouted] them,” McCauley said of Jeff. “They’re very athletic, they’re very fast, they shoot the ball extremely well and play hard.

“Again, it’s NCC and sectional opponent [tonight] and another sectional opponent on Saturday. It’s really a challenging weekend.”

• The Wildkats have a couple special events planned for Saturday. The boys and girls games are hosting Kats for a Kure day to combat cancer. In addition, Kokomo will honor former coach Basil Mawbey at Saturday’s boys game. The school is inviting those who played for Mawbey or worked with him to recognize the veteran skipper.

Western (3-2, 2-0 MIC) at Hamilton Hts. (2-0, 1-0 MIC)

The Panthers head south to take on Heights in a big Mid-Indiana Conference matchup. Heights has posted a couple 18-point victories over Cass and Tri-Central. With a well-rounded lineup led by star Alex Etherington, the Huskies are dangerous.

“When we talk about Heights, you’ve got to start with Alex Etherington,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “He’s big, he plays all over the floor, anywhere from a guard to center. They’re very explosive offensively as well as defensively. They have nice compliments around him, along with Grant Weatherford at point, Conley Hoover on a wing. They’ve got a nice compliment to go with outside shooting, being able to get to the bucket and create as well. It’s definitely not just Alex this year.”

Etherington is averaging 19 points per game, Weatherford adds a dozen.

“They like to push the ball a lot and get some transition buckets,” Miller said. “In halfcourt offense they move the ball very well and look for the open man and take open shots. They don’t really force anything.”

Shooting guard Des Balentine leads the Panthers in scoring at 11.8, followed by post Ronnie Smith (10.8) and point guard Evan Warden (10.2).

“We need to come out and match their intensity,” Miller said. “We need to be ready to play from the tip and play a 32-minute ball game. We need to be able to defend both their post and perimeter games.”

• The Panthers face a similar opponent on Saturday night when they host Frankfort. The 5-1 Hot Dogs don’t play tonight.

“They like to push the ball in transition as well,” Miller said. “They’ve got Dakota Isgrigg on the inside as well, a real good inside player. They’ve got outside guys that can compliment him. Isgrigg is an excellent post player and he makes good decisions as to when to shoot and kick it back out.”

Northwestern (4-1, 1-1 MIC), at Maconaquah (3-1, 0-0 MIC)

Another big Mid-Indiana Conference game will take place at Mac’s tight little barn tonight when the Purple Tigers and Braves meet in a game between two squads enjoying great starts to the season.

Northwestern’s only loss was a two-point loss to Western. Mac has won three games in a row after dropping its opener to North Central Conference squad Logansport.

“It should be a fun game,” NW coach Jim Gish said. “Obviously, Mac has got [Micah] Pier in the middle who has done the bulk of their scoring. He’s a legitimate big man in the post that requires a lot of attention, does a nice job of making guys around him better, and he has a very, very nice soft touch.”

A 6-10 senior, Pier is averaging 23.5 points. Attacking forward K.J. Walton averages 13.8. Gish said besides getting the ball inside to Pier on offense, the Braves to a good job penetrating with Walton and Tyler Bradley.

“Defensively, they really stretch their 2-3 zone, put a lot of pressure on you with their guards,” Gish said. “They’ll trap you some and try to use their quickness up front with Pier protecting the basket.”

Trenton Brazel leads the Tigers on offense at 24 ppg, the second-highest average in the area. In addition, Wing forward Graham Ortmann has taken big strides this season and averages 12.2 ppg. Center Chase Johnson leads the area in rebounding at 12.2 per game. The physical 6-7 pivot should make for an interesting matchup with Pier.

“We have to reduce the number of turnovers that we have in a basketball game and we have to limit them to one shot,” Gish said. “That has to be a real focus of ours.”

LCC (4-1, 1-0 HC) at Tipton (3-0, 1-0 HC)

Lafayette Central Catholic lost its opener to West Lafayette in the Journal and Courier Classic, and has won four straight including two in a row against league foe Twin Lakes (once in the tourney and once in league play).

“They’re a great program. They move with speed and strength, have got good ball handling — [Andrew] Hubertz and [Timmy] Mills and [the point guard], they’re just good ballhandlers — and they score effectively, they move hard,” Tipton coach Brad Dickey said.

Jake Churchill leads LCC in scoring at 13.7 with Hubertz following at 11.7

The Class 2A No. 2 Blue Devils enter on a roll with three double-digit wins, including last weekend’s 83-38 pasting of league foe Rensselear.

“We’re coming off a good game at Rensselear,” Dickey said. “We’re still working on learning our set plays and utilizing our size and strength. Our passing improved dramatically from the second game to the third.

“Our defensive concentration has been good, but LCC has got great speed so it’ll be very challenged in that regard.”

Tipton’s Mike Crawford leads the Tribune area in scoring heading into the weekend, averaging 26.7 ppg. Mason Degenkollb adds 11.7.

“We need to win some basketballs, make a few rebounds or pick up some loose balls because I know [LCC is] very good at those things,” Dickey said.

• The Blue Devils host a 2-2 Westfield team on Saturday. The Shamrocks lost their first two games to Kokomo and Zionsville, and have beaten Pendleton Heights and Lafayette Jeff since then.

Taylor (0-5, 0-1 MIC) at Cass (2-3, 0-1 MIC)

The Kings have wins over North Miami and Caston but seek their first league victory, while the Titans are trying to get their first victory of any kind.

Austin Keisling leads Cass in scoring at 14.2 ppg. Challen Hodson leads the Titans at 11.6 ppg.

• Cass visits Rochester on Saturday. The Zebras are 0-4 heading into today’s action.  

Peru (1-3, 0-0 MIC) at Eastern (1-3, 0-1 MIC)

The Comets earned their first victory of the season last weekend at the expense of Southwood. Forward Josiah Marx leads Eastern at 15.3 ppg and is second in the area on the glass at 10 rpg.

Peru wing Logan Primerano averages 18 ppg and is third in the area at 9.7 rpg.

• Eastern hosts 0-6 Clinton Central Saturday. The Bulldogs don’t play tonight. On Saturday, the Bengal Tigers visit Southwood, which is 1-2 heading into today’s action.

Around the area

Rossville (2-3, 0-0 HHC) visits Carroll (3-2, 0-0 HHC) tonight in the Hoosier Heartland opener for both.

On Saturday, Madison-Grant (2-3 heading into today) visits Tri-Central (1-3).