By JOSH SIGLER
Although in its second year of existence, in a lot of ways, the Indiana University Kokomo men’s basketball team is still in its infancy.
The Cougars feature 10 new faces in their regular lineup. The top three returners are developing in completely different roles than last year. IUK is in its first season in the NAIA. And, the Cougars are playing in a new home venue, Kokomo High School.
For the first time this season, coach Jace Thompson saw the members of his team truly settle into and embrace their roles in an 81-76 victory over Purdue North Central on Saturday, making for a happy homecoming day for IUK.
“You see guys who are playing with energy and are committed to executing what we set out to in practice during the week,” Thompson said. “Everybody on this team is either new or in a new role, so you saw some of them struggle to start the year because I was still trying to figure out how to put them in the best position. They’re starting to understand what I want from them, and I’m starting to do a better job of putting them in positions in which they can succeed.”
The Cougars (4-6) trailed by four at the half, 43-39, but ignited for 12-4 run to start the second half to take a 51-47 lead with 15 minutes to play, and never trailed again.
IUK led by as many as nine with seven minutes to play, but the Panthers (3-8) cut the lead down to one at 69-68 with 3:45 to play after the Cougars coughed the ball up against PNC’s press.
Panthers leading scorer David Kelly fouled out 45 seconds later, however, and a pair of post buckets by Joby Renbarger helped IUK stretch the lead back out to six at 76-70 with two minutes to play.
The Cougars were able to hold PNC off for the victory despite going just 20 of 39 from the foul line for the game.
“That’s the first second half this season where you’ve seen us come out in the first five minutes and own the game,” Thompson said. “The difference was on the defensive end. It doesn’t matter if you miss shots as long as you turn it up on the defensive end. PNC has a lot of good guards, so for us to come out and put the kind of pressure on them that we did showed a lot of poise and commitment to the process and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
IUK out three players in double figures, led by point guard Reomey Northington’s 17 points. Northington, a Taylor High School product who went 7 of 10 from the field for the game, led the Cougars in scoring for the second straight game, his first two of the season after nursing a balky shoulder.
Renbarger, an Eastern High School product, added 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds in the victory. Nathaniel Carroll finished with 15 points and hit 4 of 8 from 3-point range. Spencer Krhin and Jared Lawrence both finished with nine points to aid the victory cause.
Kelly scored 19 points to lead PNC before fouling out. Futch Alphonse added 12 points in the loss for the Panthers, while Matthew Demler finished with 11.