Plays down the stretch were important, to be sure.
But the big key to Holmes' 65-60 victory over Pleasure Ridge Park may have been how the Bulldogs came out of the gate Wednesday.
Holmes jumped to a 17-6 lead and never trailed en route to a first-round victory in the KHSAA Boys' State Basketball Tournament in Rupp Arena.
The Bulldogs (32-2) advance to Friday's quarterfinals against Madison Central.
"Just for our guys to come out and execute for 32 minutes and really, really did a good job of keeping their composure," winning coach Jason Booher said in breaking down the keys to victory. "PRP's so good pressuring the basketball, and our guys did a great job of just keeping their composure, making enough plays, hitting free throws and getting enough rebounds down the stretch."
Holmes outscored PRP 21-9 from three-point range and 26-13 at the foul line.
B.J. Coston shot 5-for-7 from three-point range and led Holmes with 23 points. Chris Englemon, a 6-foot-2 senior, put up a double-double of 10 points and 18 rebounds. Sophomore point guard James "Beetle" Bolden added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Coston came out firing to nail three first-quarter treys.
"I came into the game, I was nervous because I've never been on this floor before," the 6-1 senior said. "So I just thought I had to shoot real well for us to win."
PRP (25-8) got 20 points and 12 rebounds from 6-7 junior LaMontray Harris. Antonio McDaniels, a 5-10 junior, added 19 points.
"I wish we could have come out with more intensity in the first quarter," Panthers Coach Dale Mabrey said. "I thought we didn't match their intensity, and I thought that played a big role throughout the game. The tone was set."
The Panthers never quit, though, battling back to within 40-39 when Taywan Taylor scored on a put-back with 2:37 left in the third quarter.
"When we were able to lock them down and get them to miss a shot, they seemed to control the boards on us and get a lot of easy put-backs that way," Mabrey said. "But I couldn't be more proud of this group."
The score was 49-47 in the fourth quarter when PRP went into a 3½ -minute drought.
A Coston three-pointer and a pair of free throws by Englemon pushed the Bulldogs' lead to 54-47.
The closest PRP came from there was 59-56, when Harris hit a three-pointer with a minute left.
Two free throws by Quan Palmer and one by Bolden pushed the lead to 62-56. The Bulldogs, with Bolden running things at the point, kept their cool down the stretch.
"I just wanted to play under control and dribble the ball like I'm used to," Bolden said. "And just find the open man, because they double-teamed me a lot."
Booher was pleased to see a 39-35 rebound advantage.
"I knew if we didn't outrebound them or tie them on rebounds, we didn't have a chance of beating PRP," he said. "Because they live off offensive-rebound put-backs."
Englemon was the main man on the boards.
"He plays undersized a lot of times," Booher said. "... On the biggest stage in the state of Kentucky, he had 18 rebounds against — you saw the lineup PRP had. To get 18 rebounds in the state tournament at 6-2, 6-3 is unbelievable. I told him, 'You've got to go to war for me tonight for 32 minutes,' and that's exactly what he did."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.