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BOYS BB: Kats turn up heat on Bearcats to win going away

Jan. 19—With 3:21 left in the first quarter Friday night, Kokomo boys basketball coach John Peckinpaugh called a 30-second timeout after his Wildkats scored a fastbreak hoop to cut Muncie Central's lead to 11-6.

It didn't take 30 seconds for Peckinpaugh to get his point across.

Kokomo got sharper and sharper from there on, tying the game briefly at 11-all, falling behind 15-11 at the quarter break, then taking over in the second quarter to run away for a 62-39 North Central Conference victory in Memorial Gym.

The Class 4A No. 10-ranked Kats improved to close the first quarter, then asserted control in the second, going on a 22-2 run that spanned the entire period. The Kats led 33-17 at halftime and kept motoring in the third quarter, scoring the first eight of the second half and cruising into the final break up 50-25.

"I just thought our intensity got better," Peckinpaugh said. "I thought that first four minutes or whatever it was, we were worried about the wrong things. We were worried about looking cool, we were worried about what undershirts we had on. But then the guys responded. I thought we were really, really good in that second and third quarter.

"I think the guys responded to that timeout, came out and played like they know how to play and how they're supposed to play and took care of business."

Kokomo's halfcourt defense got more bothersome and its fullcourt defense did the same, shutting down Muncie Central's offensive action that had led to three Bearcat 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game. Central didn't hit another triple until Kokomo had established a 46-19 lead more than halfway through the third quarter.

"We had some things go right early, but we knew punches were coming. They're going to go on a spurt. We just didn't handle the first one very well," Muncie Central coach Justin Ullom said. "We got out of our game plan offensively when we took the first punch and I felt we took eight or nine bad shots alone in the second quarter, and they led to a lot of runouts and that was just us not reacting well. I probably should have used another timeout or a few different calls to stop it."

In Kokomo's second-quarter onslaught, the Kats got four inside buckets and a pair of free throws from center Flory Bidunga, a pair of fast break hoops from guard Reis Beard, three baskets from forward Karson Rogers and a couple more free throws. The Kats had five assists in the frame.

On the other side, Muncie Central was held to 1-of-12 shooting in the second quarter and did not attempt a free throw.

"We thought if we would attack the paint three times [per possession] and move the ball just three or four passes, that we'd get a really good open jump shot," Ullom said. "We were going to be comfortable with a lot of jump shots because you're not getting a lot 15 feet and in [due to Bidunga's shot blocking]. And I thought we did that early. And then I thought when we got punched a little bit, we maybe [shot] after one pass or two passes, or took it in and tried to shoot it against [Bidunga] and he had I think four blocked shots in the second quarter."

Kokomo was anticipating that plan and aimed to stop it.

"Coach [Ullom] does a great job. They turn the floor over and make you change sides of the floor defensively, and our defense wouldn't allow them to change sides, which was what we worked on all week, and our guys really executed that," Peckinpaugh said.

Bidgunga finished with game highs of 18 points and 15 rebounds for his 62nd career double-double. Rogers added 14 points, eight rebounds and a team-best four assists. Beard and Korbyn Hammell added six points each and Baris Moore five.

"They're hard to stop, but we let their two guys [Bidugna and Rogers] get their averages, and when you're going to beat other teams, you need to hold at least one of their top two guys down," Ullom said. "Those guys are both good inside and rebound hard."

Bidunga hit 6 of 7 shots from the field and 6 of 8 from the line. The Kats crushed the Bearcats on the glass 39-25.

"I think we have the best 5-4 [center and power forward] combo in the state," said Peckinpaugh, a former Muncie Central post player. "Point-production-wise, those guys are really hard to keep down. You've got to kind of pick your poison. What are you going to do, double Flory? If you double Flory, you've got Karson diving to the rim and it's tough to guard."

With the win, the Kats moved to 5-0 in the North Central Conference and 13-3 overall. Class 4A No. 9 Richmond is next at 3-0 in the league.

"To stay undefeated in the NCC you've got to take care of home court," Peckinpaugh said. "[The Bearcats] are a lot better than their record. They had a really good game at Richmond last week, so to take care of business and get a conference win is huge."

Brady McNabb led Muncie Central (5-9 overall, 1-3 NCC) with 12 points. Shemar Taylor added nine.

Kokomo hosts Class 2A No. 1 Tipton tonight.