Archive for December 31, 2012

NO FREEBIES FOR IU KOKOMO COUGARS IN LOSS TO JUDSON UNIVERSITY

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Coaches will often say fundamentals will win games. For the Cougars of Indiana University Kokomo, they learned that lesson the hard way in a 59-47 loss to Judson University of Elgin, Ill. In the 12-point loss to a team the Cougars defeated 70-63 on Oct. 27, IU Kokomo missed a staggering 16 free throws while Judson connected on 16 in the game played on Dec. 29

“I would like to say it is a practice thing, but right now we have got ourselves in a mental thing when we get to the line,” said Kokomo head coach Jace Thompson. “I am not sure we know if we are going to make it or not, and we are trying to snap them out of it. You see it at all levels, and unfortunately, it has now affected our whole team – they are all missing free throws. Free throws are mental, and we will get better at it.”

Shooting woes plagued the Cougars all night, not just at the charity stripe but in the field. While hitting a chilling 10 of 26 free throw attempts (.385), the Cougars could not find a groove at any spot on the home floor as they connected on 16 of 50 field goals (.320) and 5 of 19 3-pointers (.263).

The Cougars were in the game thanks to equally poor shooting in the field by Judson. At the 10:45 mark, Western graduate John Capps forced a turnover and fed Jared Lawrence on a fast break layup to give Kokomo its first lead of the game at 11-9. But a 3-pointer by Skylar Sandry returned the lead to the Eagles and started a 17-0 run and an eventual 15 point halftime lead (30-15.)

The Cougars battled in the second half, cutting the lead to nine on several early possessions. Lewis Cass graduate Jacob Faust’s bucket at the 6:46 mark cut the lead to seven. Baskets by Nathaniel Carroll and Spencer Krhin kept the Cougars in the game, but they simply dug themselves in a hole too to early and couldn’t overcome poor free throw shooting (8 of 18 in the second half). While the Cougars could not buy a freebie, the visiting Eagles connected on 16 of 17 attempts.

“Defensively, we played much better; this was a solid defensive performance,” said Thompson, who noted the Cougars won the turnover battle 19-13. “A missed shot here and there in the first half got us off to a bad start and it was tough to shake off.”

The Cougars continue to battle health issues as Carroll, Jacob Faust and Joby Renbarger have all been affected by illness over the holiday break.

For the second consecutive game, Krhin paced the Cougars with 15 points off the bench. Jared Lawrence added eight points and five rebounds and Carroll had seven points and five rebounds for the Cougars. Bob McCarthy led the Judson Eagles (3-11) with 15 points and five assists while Frankie Cleope added 14 points.

The Cougars (5-10) return to action on January 5, when they host NCAA Division II Salem International University (7-7) from Salem, W.V. Game time is set for 3 p.m. at the Kokomo High School Gym.

WILDKAT DOMINATION: KOKOMO REPEATS AS COKE OLD SCHOOL SECTIONAL CHAMPIONS

The No. 4 Kokomo Wildkats repeated as Old School Sectional champions. (SJ Photo: William Gibson)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Total domination! That may be the best way to describe Kokomo’s run through the Coca-Coca Old School Sectional field as the Wildkats repeated as the tournament champions after outscoring its three opponents 204-80 in the second annual event. The Kats were crowned champions after beating Western 67-26 in the championship game. The Wildkats, ranked fourth in the state in the coaches all-class poll, knocked off Maconaquah 81-37 in the quarter-finals and Taylor 56-17 in the semi-finals.

“To hold Western to 26 points and single digits in every quarter, and the last quarter just three points, is one phenomenal defensive effort,” said Kokomo head coach Brian McCauley, who recorded his 100th win in the Taylor victory. “It was really a team effort, and I am proud of the way we played, especially defensively.”

In the championship game, Tayler Persons led Kokomo with 21 points (8 of 10 from inside the arc) and 10 rebounds. LaBradford Sebree added 12 points and Kylee Beheler grabbed a career-high nine rebounds. Western was led by the 12 point, seven rebound performance of Ronnie Smith, both team highs.

Persons, a junior, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after having a lights-out final day. In Saturday’s two games (Friday’s scheduled games were played on Saturday due to weather postponements), Persons scored 39 points on 17-26 shooting (16-19 from 2-point range). He also grabbed 14 rebounds and had five steals – all after learning his grandfather had passed away Friday night.

“I came in focused and I don’t really care about winning the MVP,” said Persons, who wrote a tribute to his grandfather, Eric Donelson, on his game shoes. “I just wanted to win the games and I wanted to play good for my grandpa – I really looked up to him and miss him already.”

McCauley said, “Tayler had a great week. It was an emotional week as he played for his grandfather, who was like a second father figure to him.”

Kokomo’s domination of the tournament included shooting 55-percent from the field (63-percent from 2-point range), forcing 75 turnovers and holding its opponents to single-digits in its last nine quarters and in 12 of 14 tournament quarters. The lowest Kokomo scored in a quarter was 12. The Kats outscored Maconaquah 35-7 in the fourth quarter, Taylor 34-7 in the first half and Western 38-11 in the second half. But that might be expected as Kokomo has the best record in Indiana and gives up just 38.7 points per game (sixth best in the state).

“We did a great job of contesting shots and playing aggressive defense,” said McCauley. “You can go down the line and every one of our players played well. This was really a total team effort because even when we put in our bench, they got the job done.”

The Taylor Titans finished in third place after upsetting Northwestern 49-38 in the consolation game. Eastern placed fifth after a 65-58 win over Maconaquah. The game of the tournament was a semi-final matchup in which Western nipped Northwestern 71-70 in triple overtime thanks to a buzzer-beater by Mitchell Shahan.

“I think fatigue was a factor for (Northwestern),” said Taylor head coach Andy Lewman after his squads upset win. “I feel for them – we were tired after playing Kokomo and we didn’t have a triple overtime game. But I thought we did a good job competing and were six for seven from the free throw line – so that is a good step forward. Winning two of three is nice. We did some good things and we are pleased with where our effort fell. Any time you can win two of three in a week, especially with the competition we have seen, is good. I look at the Kokomo game as the measuring stick, so getting Northwestern is big.”

Most Valuable Player: Tayler Persons, Kokomo.

All-Tournament Team: Tayler Persons, Kokomo; LaBradford Sebree, Kokomo; Des Balentine, Western; Ronnie Smith, Western; Nathan Gotshall, Taylor; Trenton Brazel, Northwestern.

Howard County boys basketball records: No. 4 Kokomo 9-0, Western 6-3 (two losses to Kokomo), Northwestern 5-3 (two losses to Western), Eastern 3-5, Taylor 2-7.

WELCOME TO THE CLUB: BRITTANY NEELEY NETS 1,000TH POINT

Eastern’s Brittany Neeley drives the lane and scores her 1,000th career point. (SJ Photo: Wiliam Gibson)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

GREENTOWN, Ind. – The Eastern High School athletic program has seen a considerable uptick in positive stories the past few seasons. While known more for its academics than athletics, Athletic Director Brad Wilson has hosted more than his fair share of college signings, championship stories and individual success over the past three years. And most of that has centered on Josiah Price – who is now playing football for Michigan State – and the girls running program. But on Dec. 16, the Class 2A No. 7-ranked Eastern Lady Comets basketball team took center stage as senior Brittany Neeley hit a driving layup and joined a short list of members of the Eastern 1,000 Point Club.

“We don’t have many basketball players score 1,000 points – it is great to put a couple of names up on the basketball here in the gym,” said Wilson of Neeley and Price, who scored his 1,000th point last January. “You couldn’t ask for two better kids in the world; these are the types of kids you want your own kids to marry.”

Neeley’s 1,000th career varsity basketball point came on a second quarter drive from the right side, hitting an off-balance shot as she was fouled in a 64-24 win over Madison-Grant. That bucket allowed Neeley to become the fourth Lady Comet to score 1,000 career points, joining Beth Dean (1,113), Brenda Nicholson (1,072) and Stephanie Cheek (1,007). By the end of the win over Madison-Grant, Neeley scored 23 points and had climbed to No. 3 on the Lady Comets scoring list, passing Cheek.

“I really didn’t think I would do it in the first half,” said Neeley, who hit the magical shot a little over 13 minutes into the game. “I wasn’t really nervous because I had been so busy, but it got to me a little bit at the free throw line.”

While Neeley says she wasn’t nervous, her actions may have deceived her. She missed a couple of free throws and an easy layup – courtesy of a nice pass from twin sister Bethany – before hitting the shot that sent her over 1,000. But her comment about being busy was accurate, at least according to Wilson.

“Their work ethic is unbelievable,” said Wilson of the Neeley twins. “You will see them out running before school starts and I am like, ‘give it a break.’ But that is what kind of kids these girls are. It has been a great ride. They might be two of the best athletes this school has ever had and we have had some great ones. It has just been fun to get on board and watch and see what happens in the future.”

Head coach Jeremy Dexter was emotional after the game, saying he did not want this season to end. He clearly enjoys coaching not only Brittany, but the entire Lady Comets squad.

“I don’t think I can accurately describe in words what Brittany has meant to this program and me,” said Dexter. “She came from our middle school where she just stole the ball and hit layups all of the time. Her athleticism has now taken over. Don’t get me wrong, she still steals the ball and hits layups, but when we lost Carly Miles two years ago someone had to step into the point guard roll and she did. She has taken pride in that despite not being a primary point guard coming up. She is a great leader, like all of our seniors are. She has set a precedent of work ethic. Despite everything that Brittany and Bethany have going on, they are always at practice on time and making sure the team is together – I just can’t put that into words.”

Neeley has been a huge part in the successful return of the Lady Comets program to prominence. Prior to the Neeleys’ arrival, the program suffered four seasons in which the team had 23 total wins. Since then, they have a combined record of 55-19. But there remains a large void – this senior class does not have a conference or sectional title to show for the hard work. They hope that changes this year.

“We want to keep playing deep into the tournament,” said Neeley. “That is our goal, more than anything individual. We want to win the sectional and move on.”

Neeley is no stranger to the spotlight, but it usually involves running. She finished third as a junior in the 800 meter run at the IHSAA Girls Track and Field Championships last June. The Lady Comets finished 10th in the state meet as a team. And in cross country she took home a 16th place finish this year as the Lady Comets finished seventh as a team. But with the success, she has always strived to be better.

“I didn’t want to be like the kids who peaked during their sophomore year, especially in running,” said Neeley. “Making the Indiana All-Star team in cross country was probably the biggest accomplishment and scoring 1,000 points was the next biggest. Basketball doesn’t come as easy to me, so this is really big. It is really a mental sport and I have to work at it.”

Wilson said he knows how hard Neeley has worked at basketball.

“I think it is a combination of kids working hard on their game to get themselves better as shooters and ball handlers,” said Wilson. “It is evident by watching them race up and down the court and hitting layup after layup.”

After a 52-37 Mid-Indiana Conference win against Maconaquah, in which Neeley scored 28 points, the Lady Comets stand 9-1 as they prepare to play in the Clinton Prairie Tournament on Dec. 28 and the Howard County Tournament on Jan. 3. And while the individual accolades are nice, ask anyone on the Lady Comets squad and they will say the ultimate goal is a long run into the IHSAA girls basketball tournament in February.