When it seemed everything might fall apart for McCutcheon’s boys basketball team on Friday night, a miracle saved the season.
The Mavericks experienced no such salvation in Saturday’s Class 4A Lafayette Jeff Sectional championship at Crawley Center.
Led by another strong performance from guards Tayler Persons and LaBradford Sebree, Kokomo rolled past McCutcheon 64-43 to win its third consecutive sectional championship.
“I hate to say it was just one of those nights, but it was,” said McCutcheon senior Nathaniel Acree, who scored 14 of his team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter. “I thought we got really good shots that were open — shots that we’ve hit all year — that weren’t falling down, and it didn’t seem like they could ever miss.”
About 22 hours before Saturday’s tipoff, McCutcheon sophomore point guard Tre’Shon Heard hit a 75-foot heave at the buzzer to beat Logansport, 56-53. The Mavericks, who lost 51-50 at Kokomo on Jan. 5, hoped to build off that emotional momentum in their first championship game appearance since 2009.
But when Persons hit a 3 with 3:55 left in the first quarter to break a 5-5 tie, he and the Wildkats were off to the races. The 6-foot-2 junior hit two more 3-pointers and scored 15 points during a 22-0 run that extended into the second quarter.
McCutcheon tried a variety of defenses, including a box-and-one, but Persons thwarted them all en route to 17 first-half points. He led the Wildkats to a 27-of-40 (67.5 percent) shooting night from the floor.
“I was just ready to play,” said Persons, who collected 19 points, seven rebounds and two assists. “I’ll do anything to win a game. I need the ball in my hands sometimes, and my teammates found me; they always do. We’re looking to put a banner up at Memorial Gym and win a championship this year.”
While Persons and Kokomo seemingly couldn’t miss, McCutcheon endured a woeful three quarters of shooting. From 3-point tries by Acree and the team’s other proven shooters to close-range looks from center Trevor Lockwood, Mavericks shots continually found unfriendly rims.
McCutcheon made only 4 of its 30 field goal tries through three quarters while accumulating just 13 points. During Kokomo’s 22-0 run, the Mavericks were scoreless for nearly 11 minutes of game time.
“When we’re not hitting, they double down on me, and that makes it really tough for me in the post and doesn’t give me the option to kick it out for them to make the 3, to get it opened back up,” said Lockwood, who finished with eight points and four rebounds.
McCutcheon coach Rick Peckinpaugh said his team “ran into a buzzsaw.” He also wondered if hard-fought emotional victories over Harrison on Tuesday and Logansport on Friday had taken a toll.
“It’s hard for 16-, 17-year-old kids to have that high emotionally and still come back the next day with a level of intensity,” Peckinpaugh said. “I thought we were pretty tired. There were some things that happened out there that hadn’t happened all year: missing some passes, not making shots we normally do make.”
Sebree scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, pushing the Wildkat lead to a peak of 58-24 with 3:32 left. Acree and Mark Neill led a Mavericks surge in the final minutes that rewarded the large and spirited McCutcheon student section.
Acree, Michael Southern and Matt Muncy played their final games for the Mavericks. All three helped turn around a program that surpassed the combined victory total of the previous two seasons, climbed into the top half of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference standings and won the J&C Hoops Classic championship.
“This group of kids we had this year were special,” Acree said. “I’m not saying the kids we had the other past years weren’t special, but team chemistry was big. We came together as a team and we just knew. We looked at each other and we knew the potential we had, and we actually tapped into a lot of our potential and it showed up on our record; it showed up on the court.
“I love all those guys to death. It’s my family.”