By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Kokomo’s boys basketball team posted a perfect 13-0 record at Memorial Gym last season. The Wildkats won Coca-Cola Old School Sectional and Class 4A Sectional 7 titles in posting their first unbeaten home record since the 1995-96 season.
The Kats had the Big House buzzing again Saturday night in their 2012-13 home opener.
Kokomo beat Fishers 75-62 for its 16th straight home win, a streak that dates back to the final month of the 2010-11 regular season.
“I just give a big shoutout to the student section — the Mo Block is what they call themselves — and all the fans out there,” junior guard Tayler Persons said. “I love it here, it’s like a second home to me. It’s the best.”
Persons turned in an outstanding performance to lead the Kats past the Tigers. The All-Area player scored a career-high 28 points and also had six assists, six rebounds and two steals.
“I’m really impressed with Persons,” Fishers coach Joe Leonard said. “He is the real deal. He is tough. And it seemed like whenever they needed a bucket, he could just go get it or create for someone else.”
Added Kokomo coach Brian McCauley: “Tayler Persons was just an animal and I mean that in the utmost way. He was phenomenal.”
Persons was incredibly efficient. He made 9 of 12 shots from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-land, and he made 8 of 8 free throw attempts.
“Just working in practice, shooting after practice,” Persons said when asked about the key to his hot shooting from the field. “The first game, I shot bad and I knew I had to get better. [He was 4 of 13 against Western.] Everyone had confidence in me and I just had a good game [Saturday].”
Persons is settling into a bigger role this season — and is meeting the challenge. Through three games, he is averaging 18.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 4.3 steals per game.
“I’m very confident,” he said. “I think I can come in and take a leadership role. We can do big things this year if everyone knows their role. I think we can do something really good this year.”
Persons came up biggest against Fishers when Kokomo needed a spark.
Kokomo (3-0) led 20-12 after the opening quarter and 30-19 at halftime thanks to a 15-2 advantage in points off turnovers, but Fishers cranked up the pressure in the third quarter and clawed back into the game. The Tigers outscored the Kats 20-14 in the quarter thanks to 10 points off turnovers, but Persons’ nine points helped the Kats withstand the Tigers’ charge.
The Tigers (2-2) went ahead 39-38 with 1:51 left in the quarter — but Persons drilled a 3-pointer and assisted on LaBradford Sebree’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer, and the Kats had a 44-39 lead at the end of the quarter.
The Kats scored the first seven points of the final quarter to regain control at 51-39. Persons fueled the run with five points, including a hoop-and-harm 3-point play.
Backup forward Brad Dockemeyer gave the Kats a spark with a pair of corner 3-pointers for a 57-43 lead at 4:50. The Tigers came no closer than eight the rest of the way as the Kats secured the win with good free throw shooting. They hit 18 of 20 from the line in the second half, 22 of 27 for the game.
“I’m really proud of our players. As a coaching staff, we did our best to prepare them all week, and they came out and executed the game plan almost to perfection. It was really well done. They deserve a quality win and they got it,” McCauley said.
“We knew at halftime, [the Tigers] were going to have to bring the pressure because they were down 11 and they do a great job of that with their length and athleticism. They got us sped up just a little bit and we had some turnovers, but I was proud of how we weathered some adversity there and hit some timely buckets.”
McCauley noted the play of several players including Eric Bowen, who had 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds; Sebree, who had 12 points and five rebounds; and Dockemeyer (10 points) and Mykal Cox off the bench.
“Our bench outscored their bench [12-0] and that was crucial,” he said.
Jaylon Brown, an Evansville recruit, led Fishers with 18 points. He had 11 points during the Tigers’ big third quarter.
“We thought if we could have just stayed close there [after taking the lead in the third quarter],” Leonard said. “Basically, they made us fight uphill all night. At the end, you kind of slip down the hill.
“I’m proud of the kids’ effort. Kokomo is a pretty good basketball team. [McCauley] does it every year.”