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Peru’s boys basketball team knocked down eight straight free throws in the final minute to fend off Kokomo and take a 57-51 win Friday night at Memorial Gym.

The Bengal Tigers held a 49-48 lead and possession of the ball entering the final minute. Gavin Eldridge, a freshman guard, hit both ends of a double bonus at :55 to make it 51-48. Following a Kokomo turnover, Braxton Robbins made two free throws at :36.

Shayne Spear kept the Kats’ hopes alive by drilling a 3-pointer at :22, bringing Kokomo within 53-51, but the Tigers’ Matt Ross hit two free throws at :10 to make it a two-possession game. Robbins hit two more free throws at :03 to cap the win.

Peru coach Eric Thompson credited his players for their mental toughness when asked about the clutch free throw shooting.

“They’re a lot of fun to coach and we have room to improve and build, but I’m proud of them,” he said. “We beat one heck of a good team. Coach [John] Peckinpaugh is doing a great job. They’re going to be tough.”

Peru finished 19 of 23 (82.6%) at the free throw line. By comparison, Kokomo had only eight attempts. The discrepancy in part came from the Kats taking more shots from the perimeter.

The Tigers (2-0) played in front for most of the game. They led 19-14 after the first quarter, 24-14 in the second quarter and 29-21 at halftime. But the Kats (1-1) controlled the third quarter to forge a 39-all tie going into the final quarter. Spear hit two of the Kats’ four 3-pointers in the quarter.

Peru’s Matthew Roettger hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter and the Tigers kept the lead the rest of the way. They seemed in control with a 48-42 advantage at 4:00, but the Kats rallied to within 49-48 at 1:50. From there, Peru worked nearly a minute off the clock before hitting their free throws.

“[The Kats] came back from behind against Western in game one, and they did the same thing here,” Thompson said. “I’m glad we were able to match their toughness and their will to win. It’s a testament to our boys.”

Kokomo’s Peckinpaugh was asked about the similarity to the Kats’ game against Western. In that game, Kokomo trailed 29-14 early in the third quarter, but rallied to beat the Panthers 60-58 in overtime.

“It’s hard to do night in and night out,” he said. “... We have to do a better job as a staff of having our guys ready to play and ready to execute a game plan. We have to step this up and get our guys prepared to do this every night.

“We’re a young team, we’re going to have bumps in the road,” he added. “I told our guys, ‘March is a long, long way away.’ It’s going to depend on how we learn from these opportunities and grow from them to determine what our season looks like.”

Roettger led Peru with 17 points and six rebounds. Matt Ross had 16 points and nine rebounds, Robbins had nine points and three assists, Eldridge had seven points and Alex Ross had six points and eight rebounds.

Spear led Kokomo with 15 points, fueled by 4-of-7 3-point shooting. He also had seven rebounds and four assists. Zavion Bellamy had 11 points, freshman Zion Bellamy had six points and 6-10 center Flory Bidunga had six points, seven rebounds and seven blocked shots.

Peckinpaugh liked Zion Bellamy’s play off the bench, which came after he scored a game-high 13 points in the JV game.

“He stepped up,” he said. “... He is going to be a big-time player here at Kokomo here pretty soon.”

The game was the 110th meeting in the teams’ all-time series. Kokomo leads 92-18, but Peru has won the last two.

“It’s nice to get our, sadly, second win in Peru history [at Kokomo],” Thompson noted.

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