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BOYS BB: No. 5 Kokomo beats No. 12 Anderson to keep NCC crown in town

Feb. 17—Kokomo's boys basketball team took control early and put it away late in beating Anderson 62-49 to win the North Central Conference title on Friday night in front of a large crowd at Memorial Gym.

The Class 4A No. 5-ranked Wildkats (20-3 overall) finished 8-0 in the NCC after going 9-0 last season. It's the first time the Kats have won outright NCC titles in back-to-back seasons since the 1961 and '62 seasons — and it's believed to be the first time they have gone undefeated in the NCC in back-to-back seasons in program history.

"It feels good," Kokomo forward Karson Rogers said. "Coach [John Peckinpaugh] said it was the first time in school history, so that's always good to accomplish something like that."

Kokomo has won a school-record 18 straight conference games. The title is Kokomo's 19th all-time.

Class 4A No. 12 Anderson (17-5, 7-1 NCC) simply had no answer for Kokomo's dynamic front-line duo of Rogers and Indiana Mr. Basketball candidate Flory Bidunga. Rogers had 23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists and Bidunga recorded a triple-double of 17 points, 24 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. Bidunga matched his career high in rebounds and posted his sixth career triple-double.

Rogers and Bidunga combined to make 14 of 19 shots from the field and 12 of 16 free throws.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game," Anderson coach Donnie Bowling said. "Whenever you have a Flory, and just their whole team. They have guys who have been to the [state] finals. It's just tough."

Bidunga's rim protection stood out to Bowling. The Indians finished 21 of 57 (36.8%) from the field.

"You don't play somebody like that all the time," he said, noting his players are used to attacking the lane. "You just can't do that against him. ... This game, we had to hit jump shots. You're not going to get layups. We didn't hit jump shots early and that's what it was."

Kokomo jumped to a 10-2 lead on its way to a 16-4 lead at the close of the first quarter at which point the Kats were 8 of 10 from the field and the Indians were 2 of 13. Rogers was 4 of 4 in the quarter for eight points.

"I feel like we came out more locked in," Rogers said. "During shootarounds, we're sometimes not mentally locked in, but [Friday] we all came out focused. I think that's why we had a good outcome."

Anderson settled in over the middle two quarters and clawed back into the game. Kokomo led 30-19 at halftime and 42-34 after the third quarter.

The Indians had it down to a three-point game, 49-46, midway through the fourth quarter, but the Kats settled down and rattled off an 11-3 run to regain control at 60-49 with 1:38 remaining.

"I knew this was going to be a tough task," Bowling said. "If we would have went ahead, I would have been surprised."

Korbyn Hammel opened the run with a hoop-and-harm 3-point play off a hard drive to the basket and Bidunga hit two free throws for a 54-46 lead at 3:05. After Anderson's Javon Warfield had a jumper and free throw, the Kats rattled off six quick points over the next minute. Zion Bellamy capped the run and sealed Kokomo's 19th NCC title all-time with a 3-pointer.

"We got real loose in the second and third and didn't play where I think we should play, but we were able to hold them off," Peckinpaugh said. "Coach Bowling does a good job with his team. We knew it was going to be a tough one.

"It's good for us to have a game like this," he added. "We haven't had one in about two months so it was good for us guys to be in that situation."

Bellamy finished with 11 points and four assists and Hammel had seven points and two assists.

Peckinpaugh pointed to cleaning up turnovers as a focus. The Kats had 15, which was eight more than the Indians.

Kokomo is on an 11-game winning streak, which ties for the 15th longest in program history. In addition, Kokomo has reached 20 wins for the 27th time in program history. It's the fifth time Kokomo has put together back-to-back 20-win seasons.

"I enjoy playing with my teammates, it's a good squad right here," Rogers said. "I'm very close with probably 90 percent of them so it's always fun playing with them. We're all happy about each other's success and we're just lifting each other up."

Warfield led Anderson with 13 points and Damien King had 11 points. The Kats held the high-scoring King to 4-of-14 shooting.

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