After a three-point win in their opener against Waverly, Holt found itself right back in tight game against Eastern on Friday night at Don Johnson Field House.
But the Rams prevailed in the final minutes once again.
Holt watched a double digit lead evaporate, but outscored Eastern 25-19 in the final quarter to secure a 69-60 road win in the CAAC Blue.
It was a struggle for the Rams to win close games last season as they limped to a 9-12 record, but they’re two for two so far in 2012.
“It was such a frustrating year and everything that could go wrong did go wrong and everybody’s really bought in and committed and re-committed and we had a great preseason,” Holt coach Matt Essell said. “Our practices have been more competitive than ever and guys have just bought in.”
Junior Colin Jones led Holt with 16 points.
“We had a disgusted taste in our mouth from last season and we just wanted to get off to a good start this season, hopefully,” Jones said.
The Rams enjoyed a 29-18 halftime lead and were able to keep the Quakers from getting out and running, but in the second half Eastern drew closer and ratcheted up their press.
“What we tried to do was try and create tempo. I think we let them dictate tempo that first half and so we wanted to pressure the ball the second half,” Eastern coach Rod Watts said. “We hadn’t been pressuring the ball and, two, we were behind and we needed something to wake the guys up to get going.”
Holt started the third quarter on a 7-3 run to lead 36-21, but senior Brian Morton Jr. helped pull Eastern back.
Morton, who led all scorers with 28 points, made two technical foul free throws then hit one of his five three-pointers on the night to cut the deficit to six points.
Another three-pointer from Morton at the end of the quarter brought Eastern to within three points of Holt at 44-41.
Senior Dar’Relle Welch had a basket while being fouled to start the fourth quarter, but missed a free throw that would have tied the game.
Morton would then hit another three-pointer to tie the game at 46, as Holt struggled to take care of the ball against Eastern’s pressure.
“He’s really special and a heck of a nice kid,” Essell said of Morton. “You’ve got to guard him outside, but then he’s a slasher. … We’re trying to guard him with the whole team and he still had 25 or 30.”
Eastern would end up taking a 51-50 lead on a Morton two-point shot, but it would be the last lead that the Quakers would enjoy as Holt began slicing through the press for clutch baskets.
Jones started things with a basket to give Holt the lead and the Rams were able to start building the margin back up. Eastern had the ball down 60-56 with less than two minutes to play, but a turnover gave possession back to Holt and the Rams were able to make free throws down the stretch to ice the game.
“We didn’t break (the press) for a while and then we were still shooting threes that, yeah, they’re open, but we’re shooting threes with pressure,” Essell said. “Finally, we got them convinced just to catch it out of a trap, attack the middle of the floor and let’s go get a layup, and so we started getting layups.”
“It was a pretty tough press,” Jones said, “but we got through it.”
Junior guard Don’Quall Jackson added 11 points for Holt while senior guard Donte Jackson chipped in with 10 for the Rams.