Just when Hopkinsville seemed ready to deliver a knockout punch, the Tigers took a haymaker on the chin.
Southwestern rallied from a nine-point deficit to score 14 in a row en route to a 52-41 first-round victory Wednesday in the PNC/KHSAA Boys' State Basketball Tournament in Rupp Arena.
"They were just really good," Southwestern Coach Steve Wright said of Hopkinsville. "Sometimes you can't control the flow of the game. We felt like if the game got too fast, we were in trouble. We did a pretty good job of keeping the tempo where we wanted it.
"We shot like I used to about the first five minutes of the game and, after that, we played pretty good. We got it in the basket and did a good job. Our defense was solid."
Never miss a local story.
Justin Epperson came off the bench to lead the Warriors with 18 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes. Justin Edwards and David Kapinga scored 10 each and combined for seven steals, with Edwards grabbing 10 rebounds.
Hopkinsville (32-3) got 18 points from Jordan Majors and 10 from Demarius Henry. Laurence Smith and Kenyon Wheeler grabbed seven rebounds each.
Southwestern (28-8) made only one of its first nine field-goal attempts, yet trailed only 7-6 after one quarter.
Hoptown, after going 3-for-12 in the first quarter, scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second quarter to lead 17-8.
Coach Tim Haworth sensed problems, though.
"I could tell real early, even when we were up 17-10," he said. "I didn't really have a good feel for how we were playing. I thought we hurried everything."
The Tigers were on their way to shooting 15-for-53 (28.3 percent) and turning the ball over 25 times.
Southwestern scored the last 12 points of the half and the first hoop of the third quarter to lead 22-17.
"We had played a little tentatively and we had left Majors a couple times," Wright said. "We took a timeout and addressed that. We really showed some maturity and stepped back on the floor and went after him, and really played well defensively. They were right on the verge of getting away from us."
Epperson's tip-in started the 14-0 run. Before it was over, he added two assists.
"Coach always tells us 'just go in and play hard and rebound,'" Epperson said. "So if I get rebounds, it gives my teammates opportunities."
Kapinga scored six of the 14. Daulton Marlow hit a three-pointer, Isaiah Collier had two points and Edwards had one.
Southwestern handled Hoptown's defensive pressure and pushed the lead to 14 early in the fourth quarter.
"We had a good play against the press they gave us and we just executed well," Kapinga said. "Pass the ball, find the open man, cut and just communicate."
Hoptown cut the gap to six, 41-35, when Majors hit two free throws with 3:14 left.
That's as close as the Tigers came, though, as Edwards scored from in close and Epperson knocked down four consecutive free throws.
"It was a tough night for us offensively. Probably the worst game we've played offensively all year," Haworth said. "You shoot 28 percent for the game, it's going to be tough to beat anybody that's good. I thought our kids fought back, played extremely hard. We just didn't get the job done offensively."