Kokomo’s boys basketball team had Memorial Gym buzzing like old times Tuesday night.

Down by 15 early in the third quarter, Kokomo rallied to beat Western 60-58 in overtime in the teams’ traditional season opener. Patrick Hardimon had the place rocking when he buried a 3-pointer at :03 in overtime for the win.

“It feels great,” Hardimon said of the win. “It relieves some stress off our shoulders because we have been stressing about this game since the beginning of practice. We’ve been working and working and working for this and we got the W. We’re looking forward to [building on it].”

Hardimon was the driving force in the come-from-behind win. The 6-foot-4 junior guard/forward scored a game- and career-high 28 points with 23 coming after halftime. He finished 9 of 12 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-land.

“Credit to Hardimon, I thought he was just an absolute stud,” Western coach Mike Lewis said. “What a game that he played.”

The game went into overtime tied at 50. With the score tied at 51, the teams traded shots. First, the Kats’ Shayne Spear hit a long jumper for a 53-51 lead at 2:48. The Panthers’ Dylan Hightower countered with a 3-pointer to give his team a one-point lead — and Spear followed with a 3 of his own for a 56-54 lead at 2:04.

After Kokomo center Flory Bidunga blocked Western guard Evan Kretz’s shot at the rim, the Kats’ Reis Beard split a pair of free throws for a 57-54 lead at :44. But Kretz came right back with plays to put his team in the lead. First, he hit two free throws at :30. Next, after Kokomo turned the ball over breaking the press, Kretz attacked the basket for a layup at the rim at :17. That put Western up 58-57.

From there, the Kats had the game-winning play. Hardimon brought the ball up and gave it to Spear on a dribble handoff out front. Spear drove into the lane, then kicked to Hardimon on the wing and he buried the triple.

“We executed really well,” Hardimon said. “I was thankfully open and I took the shot. It felt great.”

New Kokomo coach John Peckinpaugh said the Kats had options on the play.

“You got the big guy [Bidunga] rolling to the rim, you know they’re going to help. If they didn’t help, we were going to score at the rim. If they did help, I know we’d have a shot to win the game,” Peckinpaugh said after his debut with the Red and Blue. “[Hardimon] hit a big shot. He was ready to go.”

Bidunga sealed the win by blocking Kretz’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

Western looked in control when it went into halftime with a 27-14 lead. The Panthers hit 9 of 13 shots in the half, including 7 of 11 from 3-land.

The Panthers pushed their lead to 29-14 when Kretz hit two free throws early in the third quarter before the Kats dialed up their defensive intensity. The Panthers missed their first five shots from the field and then had back-to-back 10-second violations against the Kats’ full-court press.

Kokomo used a 15-2 run to draw within 31-29 late in the third quarter.

“Credit to them, they turned up the pressure and we played not to lose instead of continuing to play to win,” Lewis said. “That’s on me, I didn’t do a good job of putting kids in a position to be successful and attack their pressure.”

Fresh off the bench, Hightower steadied the Panthers by hitting two 3-pointers in the final 63 seconds of the third quarter, pushing Western’s lead to 37-31.

Western kept Kokomo at bay for most of the fourth quarter, and the Panthers seemed to have weathered the storm when Michael Gaines hit two free throws for a 50-42 lead at 1:55. But the Kats followed with a hustle play — Reis Beard grabbed an offensive rebound, Bidunga fired a pass from the post to Hardimon on the wing and Hardimon drilled a 3-pointer. Following a Western turnover, Hardimon scored on a putback at 1:25. And after Western’s Ian Thurston missed two free throws, Spear drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

Just like that, the Kats had rattled off an 8-0 run in a 36-second stretch to forge a 50-all tie. They carried the momentum into the OT session.

“I thought the first half we stood around a lot offensively and that put us in tough spots defensively,” Peckinpaugh said. “Coach Lewis does a great job, they were ready to play. The second half, our guys really responded. We talked all week about how great teams can respond to adversity and that’s what our team did [Tuesday]. We got hit in the jaw early and we bounced back. We showed some toughness and some grit to get it done.”

The 8-0 run to close regulation highlighted the Kats’ strong work on the offensive glass. They finished with a decisive 18-0 advantage in second-chance points. Bidunga had nine of the Kats’ 14 offensive rebounds.

“We had multiple opportunities to shut the door in their face and they got second-chance points,” Lewis said.

A 6-10 international student, Bidunga played well in his debut. He finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.

“He changes the game,” Peckinpaugh said. “He doesn’t have to score to help us win games is the great thing. He rebounds at a high level and he changes shots at the rim and he’s only going to keep getting better at those two things. The scoring will come. Hopefully he gets more calls as we go.”

Spear finished with 14 points.

Kretz led the Panthers with 22 points, Gaines had 13 and Hightower had nine on 3-of-3 3-point shooting.

“There’s going to be a lot of things we can learn from this film, a lot of ways we can grow from this game because it was an awesome Indiana high school environment,” Lewis said.

• Kokomo’s game against Westfield, scheduled for Saturday at Memorial Gym, has been pushed back one week to Dec. 4. Westfield’s football team is playing in the State Finals on Saturday.

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