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BOYS BB: Wildkats handle Bronchos in sectional semifinal

Mar. 1—LAFAYETTE — Kokomo's boys basketball rode a dominant 13-minute stretch of play to a 65-52 victory over Lafayette Jeff in the Class 4A Lafayette Jeff Sectional's opening semifinal on Friday night at the Crawley Center.

The Bronchos came out hot from 3-point range and owned a 15-12 lead deep in the first quarter when the No. 4-ranked Wildkats' takeover began. The Kats closed the quarter on an 8-0 run, outscored the Bronchos 19-8 in the second quarter and opened the third quarter with nine straight points to build a commanding 48-23 lead.

From there, the Bronchos chipped away some over the remainder of the game, closing to within 12 midway through the fourth quarter and again in the final minute, but the Kats held strong for the win.

"I thought we got complacent a little bit, but overall I thought we played a lot better [than in Tuesday's victory over Harrison]," Kokomo coach John Peckinpaugh said. "Energy and effort were better. Guys were locked in. We just got a little loose offensively in the second half and allowed them to get some easy looks. But overall, pretty happy."

Kokomo (24-3) advances to face Marion (12-12) in the championship on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Crawley Center. Kokomo is shooting for its third straight sectional title and 77th all-time.

"We have a big prep night and then get our guys ready for it in the morning," Peckinpaugh said.

Kokomo center Flory Bidunga was dominant in the semifinal victory. The Mr. Basketball candidate and McDonald's All-American made 14 of 15 shots and finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds for his 71st career double-double. He also had two blocked shots, one steal and one assist.

"He's so good," Jeff coach Mark Barnhizer said. "He's the best high school defensive player that I've ever coached against and I've done this quite a while. Obviously, his timing inside [is exceptional]. Offensively, we didn't make him put it on the floor, we let him get in close, but our biggest guy is 6-2 too. That was a problem for us all year.

"The other thing that really impresses me about Flory is ... he's not only a good player, he has good composure and he's a good leader," he added. "We had that with Brooks [Barnhizer, now at Northwestern U.] and I know what that feeling is like as a coach. When your best player is a good leader, the other players follow. That impresses me about him about as much as anything."

The Kats backed Bidunga with good balance. Zion Bellamy drilled four 3-pointers, scored 14 points and had two assists, Karson Rogers had 10 points and four assists, Korbyn Hammel had seven points and three assists, Reis Beard dished five assists and Andrew Barker offered four points and two assists off the bench.

Kokomo seemed to make a concerted effort to get the ball inside to Bidunga early and often against the shorter Bronchos. The Kats' opening possession ended with a Bidunga dunk. He had 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the first quarter.

"[The Bronchos] did a really good job the last time we played of keeping us out of the lane. I thought they did a pretty good job [Friday] of doing that, but we brought in some stuff to really try to force it in and get some paint touches and it worked," Peckinpaugh said.

Bidunga finished with seven dunks in the game. That included a highlight-reel jam to open the second quarter. He dribbled out of the defensive halfcourt to start a fast break, dished to Bellamy on a wing, raced down the other wing, received Bellamy's lob and slammed it with one hand.

That seemed to ignite the Kats' big second quarter, which ended with a Bellamy 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 39-23 lead.

Jeff (13-10) was 3 of 14 from the field in the second quarter.

"The second quarter just killed us," Barnhizer said. "We took some quick shots that weren't really the shots we wanted to take, but I'm not disappointed at all. We're just not as nearly as physically talented as they are, obviously."

The Bronchos' offensive success came from 3-point range as Bidunga's presence inside limited them to 10 points in the paint. Angelo Hausmanis was 5 of 11 from 3-land (3 of 6 in the first quarter) and scored 19 points and Devion Perry was 3 of 8 from distance and scored 17 points.

Marion beat Logansport 89-69 in the second semifinal. The Kats beat the Giants 80-49 in an NCC game on Dec. 15 at Marion. Kokomo and Marion also met in the sectional final last year — the Kats won that one 85-51.

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