INDIANAPOLIS — When a basketball team at the high school level is blessed with the talent of someone like Kokomo center Flory Bidunga, it can make the game much easier.
After a dominant start Thursday night in a North Central Conference road game at Arsenal Tech, the Class 4A No. 8 Kats found themselves in trouble late in the third period.
That’s OK though, because they have Bidunga.
With seven seconds left in the third quarter and only a one-point lead, Bidunga got loose in the paint for his sixth dunk of the night. That dunk provided a spark for a 19-2 Kokomo run as the Class 4A No. 8 Wildkats ran away from that point for a 59-46 win.
“I think there was a timeout in there where we told our guys to throw it in to Bidunga because we just weren’t being very effective,” said Kokomo coach John Peckinpaugh. “We just needed to concentrate on getting him some post touches and get him some easy looks.”
While Bidunga provided his usual production with 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, it was his supporting cast that showed up strong in the beginning. The Wildkats (15-4, 7-0 NCC) connected on five 3-pointers in the first quarter as they raced out to a 25-13 lead after eight minutes. Shayne Spear was 3 of 3 from long range while Patrick Hardimon and Zavion Bellamy each added a triple.
The Titans (7-10, 0-4) did not let Kokomo run away with it, however. They were able to buckle down defensively in the second period and slow Kokomo’s offense significantly. After scoring 25 points in eight minutes, the Kats were held to just two points in the first five minutes of the second quarter as Tech cut the lead to 27-22.
A pair of dunks by Bidunga were able to stymie the run, and with five points from Hardimon the Kats finished the half on a 9-0 run for a 36-22 lead.
“In the first quarter we could not turn down those looks when they were so focused on the lane,” said Peckinpaugh of his team’s hot start. “Shayne came out on fire and hit some big shots. Patrick Hardimon hit some and Reis Beard was great defensively all night. I know he got in a little bit of foul trouble, but he brings so much to the table.”
Kokomo’s offense continued to struggle in the third quarter as the Titans worked to deny the ball inside. The Titans also got solid offensive play from guard Malik Hasani. He was able to score six points in a 15-2 Tech run that got the Titans within a point at 38-37 with 1:04 left in the third quarter. Bidunga was able to score with 40 seconds left, but Elexander Harris cut the lead back to one at 40-39 with 21 seconds left in the period.
“I just thought we came out flat [in the third quarter],” said Peckinpaugh. “We really didn’t get a lot of movement. We worked on playing against a 3-2 zone and we saw something a little different with their 2-3 so I think we were just a little out of sync there.”
That is when Bidunga ended the quarter with another slam that seemed to turn the tide back to Kokomo. The Kats scored the first six points of the fourth quarter, then after a basket by Hasani they ripped off 11 straight to push the lead to 59-42 with 1:27 left. Bidunga scored six during the run as the Kats finally broke down the defense.
Kokomo had a balanced night from the rest of its starters as Hardimon finished with 13 points and Spear and Bellamy had 12 apiece. Bellamy also added five assists to his line.
The Kats now sit atop the conference at 7-0, a half game ahead of Anderson at 6-0. Kokomo is off until next Friday, Feb. 10, when the Kats host Richmond for senior night.
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