Wildkats take third straight sectional crown

Written on 03/05/2024
Patrick Munsey

This article is brought to you by Freedom Financial.

The Kokomo Wildkats are sectional champions for the third consecutive season. The boys’ basketball team scored its 16th straight win to continue undefeated in 2024 by defeating the Marion Giants, 79-54, in Lafayette on March 2.

The Kats put together a team win against perhaps Kokomo’s greatest rival, with four players scoring 10 or more points. That effort was necessary, as it appeared that Marion’s strategy of playing over the top physically was successful, at least in the first half.

Kokomo’s big man Flory Bidunga found himself in foul trouble before the first quarter ended. Scoring machine Karson Rogers tagged out in the second with three fouls of his own. And Marion traded the lead with the Kats throughout the first half.

The Wildkats just weren’t prepared for a back-alley mugging. Still, with their season leaders warming the bench, the rest of the team managed to keep Marion at bay, though the halftime margin was just five points, 32-27.

Roughneck play without scoring only gets a team so far, as Marion quickly learned in the second half. Zion Bellamy gave the Giants a preview of the shellacking to come with an exclamation-point three to end the first half. He continued to hit big from outside the arc, dropping five bombs en route to a 17-point performance.

Sophomore Korbyn Hammel decided to host a coming-of-age party, painting 16 points on his defenders’ faces while dishing out seven assists. And, of course, Rogers and Bidunga proved they couldn’t be contained, regardless of Marion’s approach.

The Kansas-bound Bidunga sparked his team with rim-shaking dunks and four violent blocks, finishing with an untouchable 23 points. Rogers added 13 to go with seven rebounds.

The Wildkats lapped the Giants on the court in the third quarter, outscoring them 22-11 and putting the game out of reach. The fourth quarter, then, was more of the same. Kokomo continued to extend its lead over an impotent Marion team, despite solid performances from their star, Jaymen Townsend (19 points), along with double-digit finishes from Logan Barnes (11) and Tusi Jackson (10).

Kokomo’s entire season, and indeed, the defining moment of Bidunga’s high school career may well take place this Saturday. The Kats travel to New Castle to play top-ranked Fishers (25-1) in a one-game regional that sends the winner to the semi-state. The Tigers were responsible for one of Kokomo’s three losses this season, downing the Kats, 77-55 on Dec. 9 at the Forum Tipoff Classic in Southport.

The game was significant in that it was Bidunga’s lowest output of the season. He scored just four points and only took three shots from the field. He wasn’t sick or injured, but he was double- and triple-teamed the entire evening. Rogers tried to make up the difference with 17 points, and Bellamy found some shooting success that night. But Fishers’ athletic depth was the difference.

It remains to be seen if Fishers can repeat the Bidunga shutdown this Saturday, especially after squeaking into the regionals with some last-second heroics against No. 3-ranked Noblesville on Saturday night, winning 49-47. Noblesville had just downed the previous second-ranked Westfield Shamrocks in the opening round of the sectional. But the Tigers came out with their first-ever sectional title.

For Kokomo (25-3), now ranked second in the state, Bidunga and Rogers must play their best basketball of the year. In truth, the entire roster must step up if they hope to return to Indianapolis in 2024.

See additional photos from this game, courtesy of Goad Sports Media here at www.komomolantern.com or the Lantern’s Facebook page or group.