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BOYS BB: Inside dominance, Bellamy's hot quarter key Kats' win over Blue Devils

Jan. 21—Kokomo boys basketball coach John Peckinpaugh considers his front-line duo of 6-foot-9 senior center Flory Bidunga and 6-6 senior forward Karson Rogers "probably the best 5-4 combo in the state."

They are certainly playing like it.

The latest example came on Saturday night in Class 4A No. 10-ranked Kokomo's 70-51 victory over Class 2A No. 1 Tipton in front of more than 5,000 fans inside historic Memorial Gym.

Bidunga and Rogers had their way against undersized Blue Devils. Mr. Basketball candidate Bidunga recorded 24 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots and two steals and Rogers had 22 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and one steal. They combined to hit 22 of 32 shots from the field.

"They play well with each other," Peckinpaugh said. "When they share the ball and work with one another, it's tough to guard."

Kokomo improved to 14-3 while Tipton suffered its first loss and dropped to 14-1.

Tipton coach Cliff Hawkins saw the opportunity to test his team against the Kats as a positive.

"I think this was a great tournament atmosphere. It's nothing but forward from here," he said. "We're disappointed, but ... we're the last team in single-A, 2A or 3A to have a loss in the whole state of Indiana. That's more than 300 teams. So we feel really good about our team."

The first quarter saw the teams trade punches through four lead changes and three ties. Kokomo held a 13-12 edge at the close of the quarter.

A key moment in the game came midway through the second quarter. With Kokomo leading 19-16, Tipton guard Nolan Swan, the team's leading scorer, picked up his third foul and went to the bench. The Kats outscored the Blue Devils 12-4 over the rest of the quarter for a 31-20 halftime lead.

The next key moment came early in the third quarter. Kokomo guard Zion Bellamy erupted for three 3-pointers and 11 points over a 1:50 stretch to bump the Kats' lead to 42-25. The Kats kept a comfortable lead the rest of the way.

"Zion hitting some of those shots in the third helped us kind of spread them out and they couldn't keep four guys in the lane. That really opened us up in the fourth to really get it inside," Peckinpaugh said.

The Kats led 48-32 at the close of the third quarter at which point Bidunga already had recorded his 63rd career double-double. The Kats kept control throughout the final quarter with the bulk of the quarter featuring rapid-fire offense by both teams. Tipton guard Grady Carpenter scored 14 points in the quarter.

Overall, Peckinpaugh loved how his perimeter players handled Tipton's high-scoring duo of Swan and Carpenter. Through three quarters, the Kats had held them to a combined 20 points.

"Reis Beard was amazing defensively and what most people won't realize is Zion Bellamy was an absolute stud defensively for us in terms of where we wanted him to be in our scout. He did a really job of helping Reis and Korbyn [Hammel] guard Swan and Carpenter," he said.

Hawkins said Kokomo's defense made it difficult for his team to run its offense.

"We were trying to curl off screens and they'd just ram right through them. They were tough. Obviously, you can't get anything low [with Bidunga in the paint], and if you can't make shots, it gets tough. We missed some layups in the third quarter we wouldn't normally miss," he said.

Kokomo held Tipton to 30.2% shooting (13 of 43).

"That team can make you look [worse] at times than what you're doing because the athleticism is a notch higher. That's why they're the Kokomo Kats," Hawkins said. "They have a chance to really come on here during the year, I think. They're a really nice team."

The Kats' guards had nice all-around lines. Bellamy finished with 15 points, four assists and four steals. Beard had four points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. And Hammel had five points and six assists.

The Kats finished with 22 assists on 32 made field goals.

For the Blue Devils, Carpenter led the way with 23 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals. Swan had 11 points (11 below his average), six rebounds, to assists and three steals.

"They're both really good players, both have bright futures, and they'll hopefully have a great state tournament run," Peckinpaugh said.

Tipton largely held its own on the boards. Sam Quigley had eight rebounds for the Devils and Jackson Money had seven.

Both coaches know their teams have work to do in the regular season's final month.

"We still have to get a lot better," Peckinpaugh said. "I don't think we're playing our best basketball yet, which is good."

The Blue Devils visit Hamilton Heights on Friday for a Hoosier Conference game. From there, they have another top-10 clash on Saturday as they visit Class 2A No. 10 Adams Central.

"The difference there is they have one big guy," Hawkins said of going against Adams Central after facing Kokomo. "When you have these two guys like this, it gets hard with our size."

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