BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – When the new polls come out, there will be a new number one team in Class 3A after the No. 2-ranked Tipton Blue Devils knocked off Kokomo 59-47 in Memorial Gymnasium. Coupled with a loss by top-ranked Griffith, the Blue Devils stand as the lone undefeated team in 3A and join Warsaw as the only two teams in Indiana without a loss.
“This was a big game for us against an athletic and physical team,” said Tipton head coach Lou Lefevre, who is now 31-5 in two season with the Blue Devils. “In our sectional, we are going to have to beat the same type of team if we are going to win. If we can’t do that now, what makes us think we can do it then – so this is a great win in that respect.”
The first half proved to be a slugfest as Kokomo led 12-11 after one quarter with Tipton coming back to tie the game at 24 by intermission. The Wildkats quick defense held Blue Devil leading scorer Mason Degenkolb (23.5 points per game) to just two first half shots. But the second half was a different story as the senior broke free for a couple of quick baskets and became more of a part of the offense.
The game was still close after three, 39-36 Tipton, but a 13-1 run to end the third and start the fourth seemingly put the game away for the visitors. In a contest that featured 10 lead changes and eight ties in the first 23 minutes, it was all Tipton in the final nine as the Devils opened a 59-47 lead and closed the game out at the free throw line.
“What I told the team at halftime was we were tied and now we know what they (Kokomo) wanted to do,” said Lefevre. “They came out with a couple of unusual defensive maneuvers to take Mason out of the game. But we saw it, and we handled it better. When they trapped a little too much, we were able to beat them and get easy baskets. And that is what a good team does; if they want to take one player out of the game it opens up things for four other players and hopefully that will be more damaging than just that one player playing straight up. Our whole team did a good job of contributing.”
The rare win for Tipton over Kokomo was just the 20th in 110 all-time meetings. Degenkolb scored nine in the second half to finish with 13 points to lead Tipton. Tyler Slack added 12 points on a perfect 5 for 5 shooting performance and Sam Gutierrez dropped in 10. For the Wildkats, Jordan Matthews led the squad with 21 points.
Tipton (13-0, 3-0) travels to Hamilton Heights (11-6, 3-0) on Friday night in a key Hoosier Conference East Division contest. Kokomo (7-7, 1-2) hosts Lafayette Jefferson (8-6, 1-1) on Friday in a North Central Conference West Division clash before traveling to Lewis Cass (9-4) on Saturday.