BOYS BB: Kats face Legends in regional at Logan's Berry Bowl

Mar. 11—Kokomo's boys basketball team doesn't hang any banners in the Berry Bowl, but they feel right at home there.

Kokomo's 2022 tournament run saw the Wildkats go 4-0 in the Berry Bowl with the Kats winning sectional and regional titles.

The Kats returned to the square bowl earlier this season to face Logansport in a North Central Conference game. They handled the Berries 61-47.

Now, the Kats are set for another game in the familiar venue.

No. 5-ranked Kokomo (21-4) faces Fort Wayne North (16-9) in a Class 4A regional game at 7 p.m. tonight in the Berry Bowl.

"Obviously our guys are very familiar [with the gym]. We played once up there this year and obviously had a lot of success in the tournament up there last year. It brings back good memories," Kokomo coach John Peckinpaugh said. "Our guys are used to the gym so I definitely think it gives us an advantage, but we have to go out there and take care of business."

There is a preceding game at Logansport, but tonight's two winners may not meet in the next round. All regionals are one game in a change this year. Winners advance to four-team semistates, with matchups and locations determined Sunday.

Fort Wayne North is coming off its first sectional title since 2018. The Legends beat Carroll of Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne Snider and Fort Wayne Northrop to win the sectional at Carroll.

"I thought we had a good week of preparing for Fort Wayne North Side," Peckinpaugh said. "Obviously, they're a talented team that can really get up into you [defensively] and get out in transition and make tough plays. We have to do a great job of valuing the ball and getting a good shot on every possession or it could be a long night."

Brauntae Johnson is the straw that stirs the Legends' drink. The 6-foot-3 junior guard averages 20.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.7 steals per game.

"They kind of go how he goes," Peckinpaugh said. "He's about a 6-3, 6-4 point guard who can really push the pace and get downhill and finish in the lane above the rim. We have to do a great job of keeping him out of the lane and not letting them get good looks from 3 because they can shoot the ball really well as well."

Johnson is a highly coveted football recruit. Notre Dame, Purdue, Cincinnati and Tennessee reportedly are all interested in him as a wide receiver or defensive back.

Junior guard Jaxson Fugate (12.5 points) and junior guard/forward Eugene Young Jr. (11.3) are the Legends' other top scores.

"They have a lot of length around the perimeter and they're very, very athletic," Peckinpaugh said.

Asked to compare North to a team Kokomo already has faced, Peckinpaugh said the Legends remind him of a mix of Anderson and Marion.

"They'll mix up their defenses some, similar to Anderson, and then they have some length and athleticism that's similar to Marion," he said, adding North's defense definitely presents a challenge. "We'll have to be ready to make adjustments if needed."

Kokomo, of course, is led by 6-10 junior center Flory Bidunga. He's averaging 19.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocked shots and shooting a phenomenal 82.2% from the field.

The Kats also receive steady contributions from the senior trio of guard Shayne Spear (10.6 points, 4.3 assists), forward Patrick Hardimon (8.6 points) and guard Zavion Bellamy (7.5 points, 3.9 assists). Junior guard Reis Beard (5.0 points) and junior forward Karson Rogers (4.7 points, 4.4 rebounds) have split the remaining starting spot.

"We've been pretty dialed in this week of preparing to try to take away what [the Legends] do. Guys seem pretty locked in on what they need to do and their assignments so I feel pretty good about it going into it. Obviously, we have to perform and play well [tonight]," Peckinpaugh said.

The Berry Bowl likely will be packed tonight. That's nothing new for the Kats. They've played in front of several huge crowds, most recently at Anderson on Feb. 17 and in sectional games against Harrison and Marion last week at Memorial Gym.

"I don't think very much will faze our guys during the course of the game, especially the crowd size and noise, they've played in front of it all year. I think they'll be ready to go," Peckinpaugh said.

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