A good beginning led to a happy ending for Graves County.
In a matchup of Eagles, Graves County upended Ohio County 74-60 in Wednesday's first round of the KHSAA Boys' State Tournament.
"We felt like if we got off to a good start we could win this basketball game, and we did that," Graves Coach Terry Birdsong said during his Rupp Arena post-game press conference. "Got off to a good start. We moved the ball well. Good team basketball. And I think we set that tone defensively of what we wanted to do today."
The 1st Region champs (27-8) never trailed and were up 20-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Ohio County scored the first eight points of the second quarter to make it a one-point game, but Peyton Puckett's rebound-basket and two free throws by Jake Williams kept Graves in control.
Ohio County (25-8) cut into a 30-22 halftime deficit by getting back-to-back-to-back three-pointers from Preston Lambrich to open the third quarter.
Graves, limited to two-pointers by Puckett and Zach Kimbler during that stretch, regained control with back-to-back bombs by Tyler Starkey and Williams.
"Just trying to answer back," said Williams, who finished 3-for-5 from long range and 12-for-13 at the foul line. "When they start going on a run, we've got to score somehow, get that lead back up."
Leading 40-33 after the consecutive treys, Graves never let Ohio get closer than five points the rest of the way.
"I thought we responded with some runs," Ohio County Coach Paul Decker said. "I thought they responded back with some big runs. We just never could get over the hump."
Williams and Kimbler, both 6-foot-3 juniors, topped Graves with 23 points each. Kimbler also grabbed nine rebounds to help his team to a 38-24 advantage on the glass. Puckett scored 17 points, Starkey six.
"We moved the ball real well and got a lot of points in transition," said Puckett, also a 6-3 junior. "I thought Mason (Beale) played a heck of a game. Didn't score a whole lot, but moved the ball real well and got a lot of shots for Jake, and got me and Zach down low real well."
Beale finished with two points and nine assists.
Lambrich dropped in 19 points and Trevor Lewis added 15, plus five assists, for Ohio County. Lewis and B.J. Morse grabbed four rebounds each for the 3rd Region champions.
"They were more physical than us, they were stronger," Decker said. "I thought they went to the boards harder. ... We didn't do a very good job of boxing out."
Graves totaled 14 offensive boards and outscored Ohio in the paint, 38-28.
Led by Williams, Graves also knocked down 21 of 32 free throws, compared to Ohio's 8-for-10. Graves shot 49 percent (24-for-49) from the field to Ohio's 41.8 percent (23-for-55).
Kimbler expected a second-half charge by Ohio County.
"We knew they were going to start pressing us, especially that 1-2-2," he said. "Coach looked at us and said, 'Be patient and we'll get layups as we swing the ball around.' We just always seemed to find the open man underneath the goal."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229 Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com