BOYS BB: No. 4 Kokomo, No. 1 Fishers meet today at New Castle

Mar. 9—The Class 4A boys basketball state championship will be decided on March 30 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

This afternoon, two teams with the credentials to cut down the nets on March 30 will square off in New Castle and one state contender will fall by the wayside.

In perhaps the most-anticipated regional matchup in the state, No. 4-ranked Kokomo (25-3) and No. 1 Fishers (25-1) will clash at 4 p.m. at the famed New Castle Fieldhouse. The winner will be a regional champion and advance to a four-team semistate on March 16.

"We'll treat it like another game," Kokomo coach John Peckinpaugh said. "We've treated this whole week as another chance to go out and compete. Obviously, there's a little more at stake, but we're not going to try to make it bigger than what it is. It's a top-five matchup. We have to come out and play with confidence and do what we know how to do."

Both schools are expected to bring big crowds to the game, which also will surely draw lots of neutral fans who want to see either Kokomo star and Indiana Mr. Basketball candidate Flory Bidunga or top-ranked Fishers. The legendary fieldhouse has a capacity of 8,424.

"I expect a really good environment," Fishers coach Garrett Winegar said. "I'm excited to play in New Castle, excited for our players to have that experience. As far as the game goes, both teams are coming in on winning streaks. I think it's anybody's game. I'm excited to go compete. I think we have a tall task ahead of us."

Kokomo enters on a 16-game winning streak, which actually started with a victory at the New Castle Fieldhouse, over Brownsburg in the Hall of Fame Classic's consolation game on Dec. 30. Fishers opened the season 16-0 and has rattled off nine straight wins following its lone loss of the season.

Fishers emerged from the loaded Sectional 8 with its first sectional title since the school began tourney play in 2007. Fishers beat Carmel in the opening round to avenge its only loss, beat Hamilton Southeastern in the semifinal round, then edged No. 2 Noblesville 49-47 in the final.

"Obviously, our sectional is so competitive, this year heading in having the top three ranked teams in the state [including No. 3 Westfield]. But really it's the depth of the sectional that makes it so challenging. All six teams in the sectional were in the top 25 of the Sagarin going into it," Winegar said.

Fishers and Kokomo met back on Dec. 9 in the Forum Tipoff Classic at Southport. Following a 24-24 tie deep in the second quarter, Fishers closed the half on a 10-4 run and then outscored Kokomo 26-15 in the third quarter to build a commanding 60-43 lead. The Tigers' lead peaked at 27 (72-45) midway through the fourth quarter.

Fishers finished with edges of 24-4 in points off turnovers (16-0 in the second half) and 15-7 in offensive rebounds.

"I thought we did some good things against them defensively in the halfcourt. They really killed us on the offensive glass and then in transition off of our turnovers," Peckinpaugh said. "If we can keep them off the glass and value possessions and not give them live-ball turnovers that get them out in transition, I think it can be a different game. Now saying that, they're really good at doing those two things so we have to make sure we're strong with the ball and then defensively finish possessions off [with rebounds]."

For his part, Winegar said his team had an edge in the regular-season game in that the Tigers prepped for Kokomo all week while Kokomo had a double-weekend with a road game at McCutcheon the night before.

"It's just so different now than the regular season," he said. "Kokomo has won 16 straight, they're playing so well right now. Obviously they're a different team now. I think we've improved and we're a different team too."

Fishers showed great balance in the December game. Keenan Garner, a 6-foot-6 center, scored 19 points to lead three players in double figures and another four players scored between six and nine points.

"They're a deep team, play a lot of guys, but at the end of the day, everything runs through Garner," Peckinpaugh said. "He's a really good player and kind of runs the show for them at their 5 man — he's like a point 5. If we can slow him down and do a good job on sticking with our scout, I think we'll have a chance."

Garner scores a team-high 16.2 points per game, 6-2 junior guard JonAnthony Hall scores 11.2 points, 6-2 senior guard Taden Metzger offers 8.2, and 5-9 freshman guard Cooper Zachary and 6-0 freshman guard Jason Gardner Jr. score 7.5 apiece.

Winegar pointed to the Tigers' depth as the catalyst to their breakout season.

"Every night it's been a different guy to step up for us," Winegar said. "In the sectional championship, our freshman guard who comes off the bench [Gardner] goes the length of the floor and passes to a senior [Parker Perdue] who comes off the bench and didn't play much the night before and he finishes for the win.

"It's a group of guys who bought into the fact they don't care who gets credit, they don't care who scores, they're just going to play the right way and be unselfish and try to play team defense," he added.

Karson Rogers led Kokomo in the December game with 17 points. Fishers' defense and Kokomo's turnovers kept the Kats from getting the ball into Bidunga and he had just three field goal attempts and four points.

For the season, Bidunga is averaging 18.9 points, 13.1 rebounds, 4.4 blocked shots and 3.3 assists per game. Rogers backs him with 18.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Zion Bellamy leads the backcourt with 9.4 points and 3.4 assists and Korbyn Hammel, who was coming off the bench back in December, offers 6.9 points and 2.6 assists. Defensive ace Reis Beard (3.8 points, 2.8 assists) takes the other backcourt spot and rounds out the starting lineup.

"I think we had a productive week and got better," Peckinpaugh said. "I think our guys are prepared and playing with confidence right now."

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