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Kokomo forward Karson Rogers looks to score inside during the Kats’ season opener Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, at Westfield. Rogers had seven points off the bench in the Kats’ 47-39 loss.

WESTFIELD — Eight months after Kokomo's boys basketball team beat Westfield in the Class 4A Logansport Regional final, the teams met again Saturday to open the new season.

The Shamrocks gained a small measure of revenge by beating the Wildkats 47-39 in front of a packed CSI Signs Gymnasium.

Kokomo struggled offensively, which was perhaps expected considering the Kats had just five days of practice with its full team following the football team's deep tournament run. Three of the nine Kats who played were on the football squad.

"I thought our guys did a good job of competing," Kokomo coach John Peckinpaugh said. "I thought we were really good defensively in the first half of taking away what they wanted to do. We struggled offensively. I knew it was going to be a tough game on five practices, but you have to give credit to Westfield, they had a great game plan in keeping it out of the post and they did a good job executing down the stretch.

"The good thing for us is it's November. It's a long season and we're going to keep getting better."

The game was tight throughout. In the end, free-throw shooting was the difference. Both teams had 19 attempts — the Shamrocks made 14 and the Kats made only six.

"Free throws and making some open shots. Our guys are capable of knocking down open shots, they just have to shoot it with confidence, and then we have to make free throws," Peckinpaugh said.

Neither team could find any offensive rhythm in the first half. Kokomo led 6-4 after the first quarter and 14-10 at halftime, at which point the Kats were 6 of 19 from the field and the Shamrocks were 3 of 23.

"We couldn't make a basket. The bad news was we had 10 points. The good news was they had 14 so we're in the game," Westfield coach Shane Sumpter said. "I thought for four quarters, we did a good job defensively. Obviously, we had some slippage here and there, but from a standpoint of what we needed to do to contain them and contain [Kokomo center Flory Bidunga], we did a good job."

The action picked up in the third quarter. The Shamrocks made their first three shots and 6 of 15 for the quarter. The Kats went inside to Bidunga for seven points in the quarter and Karson Rogers came off the bench to score five points. The Kats led 26-24 at the end of the quarter.

The Kats went up 29-24 early in the fourth, but the Shamrocks scored the next eight points to surge into the lead. They kept it the rest of the way as they made 10 of 12 free throws over the final 2:24. They scored a putback on one of their misses.

"How important are free throws? They started fouling us [late in the fourth quarter]. It's critical," Sumpter said. "We have a lot of guys in there who had never played varsity basketball before. That's not the same team as we had last year. Four new starters from the team we had in the regional last year so we had a lot of new kids out there in a big-time environment."

Westfield graduated Mr. Basketball Braden Smith, who is starting at Purdue as a freshman.

"We're really proud of the tradition that we're building at Westfield," Sumpter added. "It's becoming a really difficult place to come play. We had the house packed. You know Kokomo is going to bring a lot of people — great, great tradition there. I have a lot of respect for them and coach Peckinpaugh, he's such a good coach. I'm a big fan of his. Good basketball game [Saturday]."

Trey Buchanan led Westfield with 15 points, Alex Romack had 13 and Sam Bishop had 12. Romack is the Shamrocks' lone returning starter and Buchanan also saw regular time last season.

Bidunga led the Kats with his 25th career double-double — 16 points and 15 rebounds. He also had two blocked shots. The Shamrocks limited Bidunga's post touches and he finished 6 of 7 from the field with two of his makes coming on transition dunks. Zavion Bellamy added eight points and Rogers had seven.

Bryan Gaskins is the Tribune's sports editor. He may be reached at bryan.gaskins@kokomotribune.com or 765-454-8567.

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Bryan Gaskins is the Kokomo Tribune's sports editor. He joined the sports department in a full-time capacity in September 1999 and moved into the editor's role in January 2010.