By ANDRES MARTINEZ
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. — For the first three quarters Monday night, Tre'von Jones couldn't shake the nerves.
"First game of the season, close games, they're so nerve-racking," said Jones, a guard on the Hannibal boys basketball team. "You're already nervous coming into the game. These close games get your heart rate pumping. You just got to be able to calm down and contain yourself."
It helped to contain Knox County's offense, too.
Hannibal opened play in its Thanksgiving tournament by outscoring Knox County 7-2 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter and using the spurt to secure a 79-72 victory at Korf Gym.
It was the first victory for first-year Hannibal coach Mark Thomas.
"There's going to be mistakes when you put in a new system," Thomas said. "It's a great feeling that they bought in."
The game was tied at 57 heading into the fourth quarter, largely because the Eagles controlled the tempo.
"That whole entire game we played at our pace and our tempo," Knox County coach Zach Summers said. "(We) really forced Hannibal to play our game."
Despite Hannibal's opening salvo of the fourth quarter, Knox County rallied to trail only 65-64.
"We had them right where we wanted them, and I was pleased with that," Summers said.
In reality, the Pirates had the Eagles where they wanted them.
Hannibal went on a 10-2 run to gain the needed separation.
"Pulling away felt great," said Jones, who led the Pirates with 20 points. "In the timeout, the coaches told us to keep our heads up and run through our plays a little bit. After we did that, it started to show, and we actually got to pull away."
It helped to get to the free-throw line 41 times. Hannibal made 27 free throws, outscoring Knox County by 16 at the line.
"Free throws played a big role in this game," Jones said. "We know that's going to be a key factor and that's going to win us a lot of games."
The Pirates opened the game on an 11-3 run, but the Eagles' Royce Poore helped spark an 11-4 run as he scored 12 of the Eagles' 14 points in the first quarter.
He finished with a game-high 24 points.
"Our drive and kick is how our 3-pointers opened up for us," said Poore, who made four treys. "We have a new style of defense and offense, and we tried and wore them down, but we just couldn't capitalize."