Rupp Arena became John Hardin's boardroom Thursday.
The Bulldogs battered Fleming County on the boards to fuel a 79-69 victory in the first round of the KHSAA Boys' State Tournament.
For good measure, John Hardin squeezed the life out of a Panthers rally by sinking 17 of 19 free throws.
Brandon Price, a 5-foot-9 senior, canned eight of nine free throws and led John Hardin (29-3) with 20 points and six assists.
Keon Williams, 7-for-8 at the foul line, added 19 points and 12 rebounds. Then came Daveon Greene with 14 points and seven boards, and Ricky Burns with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
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"Daveon's a big guy," Coach Mark Wells said of his wide-bodied, 6-3 senior. "He draws a lot of attention. Teams have to make an effort to box him out.
"We've got some athletes. I thought we were able to use our size and athletic ability. And, besides that, just being tenacious and wanting that rebound."
John Hardin advances to Friday's quarterfinals against Montgomery County.
Fleming County (28-7) was led by 5-11 junior Darion Burns with 20 points, five rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals.
Brady Saunders contributed 17 points and five boards. Troy Steward scored 13 and Austin Crisp had 11.
"They're a very talented basketball team," Panthers Coach Mark Starns said of John Hardin. "They killed us on the boards, 45-23. That's been a bugaboo for us all year."
The board work, including 20 on the offensive end, helped John Hardin lead start to finish.
"Just try to stay active," Williams said of his double-double. "Just crash the boards as hard as I can. Just try to put the ball back in the basket."
The Bulldogs led by as many as 15 in the first half and were up 34-24 at the break.
"It was a great game. I thought Fleming County played well, especially the second half," Wells said. "They didn't roll over. They just kept playing hard, continued to push it all the way to the end. ... We played hard tonight, played with a lot of intensity."
The lead was 17, 64-47, when Greene scored from close in with about four minutes left.
Fleming staged a gritty comeback, pulling to within 70-63 when Burns stole the ball and converted a three-point play with 1:28 left.
"The key word we kept using in timeouts and in huddles was, 'Stay aggressive on the defensive and offensive end,'" Starns said. "'Let's chip away and see what we can do, and try to extend the game as much as we can.'"
That's as close as it got, though, with John Hardin going 7-for-8 at the free-throw line in the last 1:17, combined with a Greene basket off an inbounds pass.
"I thought our aggressiveness was better in the third and fourth quarters," Starns said. "It just got away from us, a 10-point deficit in the first half."
A slow start in last year's first-round win over Johnson Central aided John Hardin's focus this time around.
"It helped a lot," Price said. "When we ran on the floor this year, it wasn't as exciting as last year. Last year, we were just amazed by the atmosphere.
"This year, we were worried about going out and taking care of business."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229 Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com