The Kokomo BobKats made the plays in the final minute to take a win in their franchise debut Friday night.
Kokomo guard Derek Hawthorne scored on a putback with :28 remaining to break an 87-all tie and the BobKats went on to beat the Flint United 92-90 before a lively crowd at Memorial Gym.
“It feels good to get the win,” Hawthorne said. “This is our first time playing, opening game, so it’s always exciting. A lot of fans here, so we had to put on for Kokomo.”
Hawthorne appreciated the crowd’s energy.
“Loved it,” the Indianapolis Pike and UT-Martin product said.
Kokomo held an 87-80 lead with 2:00 remaining, but Flint rattled off seven straight points to forge a tie with 1:11 remaining. After the United missed a potential go-ahead shot, the BobKats regained control when Hawthorne grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a putback for an 89-87 lead.
“You just have to stay locked in,” Hawthorne said. “Coach ran a play for one of our players. Unfortunately the shot didn’t go in, but we always have each other’s back, we pick up each other’s slack.”
After Flint committed a turnover with :07 remaining, Kokomo’s Trey Mitchell broke loose for a dunk off a sideline inbound play in the defensive halfcourt. That made it 91-87 in the closing seconds. Flint’s Karl Harris hit a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game. Hawthorne then hit one of two free throws at :01.8 to cap the scoring as the BobKats opened 1-0 in The Basketball League.
The backcourt of Eugene German and Hawthorne led the BobKats. German repeatedly attacked Flint’s defense and finished with a game-high 29 points. He also had six rebounds. Hawthorne provided a nice all-around line of 20 points, five assists, four steals and four rebounds.
Also for Kokomo, Mitchell had 13 points and six rebounds and Tremont Moore had nine points and a game-high 16 rebounds. Former Kokomo High School athlete Armon Bridgeforth provided steady minutes off the bench and finished with three points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
The game went back and forth. Flint jumped to a 10-2 run to open the game. Kokomo had a 15-0 run midway through the first quarter to take a 21-14 lead. The final 4:00 of the quarter saw the teams trade 8-0 runs.
The United put together a 12-0 run in the second quarter to take a 40-35 advantage, and Flint went on to lead 49-43 at halftime.
Flint led 57-49 early in the third quarter. German and Hawthorne took control as Kokomo surged to a 72-64 lead at the close of the quarter. The backcourt duo combined to make 8 of 12 shots in the quarter.
The BobKats seemed in control for most of the fourth quarter. They led 77-67 at 8:30, 81-73 at 5:20 and 87-80 at 2:15 before Flint rallied for the 87-all tie.
“We have to understand how to finish a game,” Kokomo coach Cliff Levingston said. “I’ve been saying from the beginning that we’re a young team, inexperienced, so we’re still learning how to close out games. It’s going to be one of those tough learning lessons for these guys to really believe in one another.”
Kokomo’s offense ran hot and cold with the BobKats finishing 32 of 85 from the field (37.6%).
“We have to understand when something is working, don’t go away from it,” Levingston said. “We were getting to the basket, hitting easy shots, and then we decide to shoot 3s. We were 3 for 19 [from 3-land]. When they went on their runs, it was because we started shooting 3s.”
Flint held a 12-3 advantage in made 3-pointers, but Kokomo held a 25-12 advantage in made free throws, thanks in large part to the attacking German drawing eight fouls and Hawthorne drawing seven fouls. The BobKats also held advantages in points off turnovers (26-10), points in the paint (58-32), second-chance points (17-8) and fast-break points (30-18).