EMPORIA — Holcomb’s defense of its Class 4A-Division II state title didn’t get off to a particularly fast start Thursday night, with the top-seeded Longhorns locked in an 8-8 tie with Frontenac after the opening eight minutes.
But Holcomb got better and better as the night wore on, with the 22-1 Longhorns outscoring the Raiders 48-31 the rest of the way to take a 56-39 victory at White Auditorium.
“Credit Frontenac, they threw a little bit of a triangle-and-two at us and kind of took us out of our flow a little bit, but once we got settled in and relaxed a little bit and worked the ball, we got some good shots,’’ Holcomb coach Chad Novack said.
Holcomb never really did find its shooting touch, hitting just 3-of-21 attempts from 3-point range, and going 7 of 17 from the free-throw line, but the Longhorns still shot better than the Raiders (28.9 percent) and finished with a huge 57-30 rebounding advantage, including a 22-5 edge on the offensive boards.
The Longhorns had 19 more shot attempts than Frontenac, which translated into 10 more field goals.
“Everybody in the gym probably saw we didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight,’’ Novack said. “Obviously, we shot the ball pretty horrid tonight, but the thing that we always preach to our kids is if we play solid defense and rebound the basketball good things will happen.
“We did a really good job of limiting them to one shot each possession, which I thought was big, and as bad as we shot we crashed the offensive boards really well. We talk about little things end up being big things, and they were huge for us tonight.’’
Holcomb may have also had to fight through some first-round jitters, with several Longhorns in more prominent roles than they were in last year’s title run.
“I think that there was a little bit of nerves there,’’ Novack said. “We have a lot of new guys this year and a lot of guys, if they did play last year, it was limited minutes.
“When you get to state, in an atmosphere like this, who’s not going to be nervous? But once they kind of settled, and relaxed and took a deep breath, we kind of got into our game. ‘’
Senior Paden Cornelson led Holcomb with 13 points while Kobe Dickson, a 6-foot-9 senior, added 11 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Frontenac sophomore Hayden Pile tied Cornelson for game-high scoring honors with 13 points while senior Broc Ginavan added 11 points for the Raiders (11-12).
Holcomb will play the 8:15 p.m. semifinal Friday against the No. 4 seed Parsons, a 72-68 winner over Anderson County in its quarterfinal game.