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Hornets win Baldwin’s debut, move on to championship

Stephanie Backus/FULTON SUN photo: Fulton senior guard Anthony Porter penetrates the lane in the second half of the top-seeded Hornets' 61-54 win over No. 4 Bowling Green on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Montgomery County Invitational Tournament. Porter finished with 20 points.

Stephanie Backus/FULTON SUN photo: Fulton senior guard Anthony Porter penetrates the lane in the second half of the top-seeded Hornets' 61-54 win over No. 4 Bowling Green on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Montgomery County Invitational Tournament. Porter finished with 20 points.

A halftime lead of seven points had been whittled down to one.

The referee had just called an over-and-back against Fulton. With 4 minutes, 41 seconds left in the third quarter, the Hornets were coming undone in head coach Marques Baldwin’s first game at the helm.

With top-seeded Fulton up 32-31 over No. 4 Bowling Green on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Montgomery County Invitational Tournament, Baldwin used a timeout to get the Hornets’ affairs back in order.

He stressed to his team their main objective for this and every game thereafter — don’t let anyone else mandate the outcome.

“I basically told them to go out there and take control of the game and stop letting them (Bowling Green) dictate the game,” Baldwin said. “They made a run at the end of the half and it gave them the confidence that they could win the game.

“I just told them to calm down and take control of the game, and let’s go do what we do.”

The edict didn’t work so much at first, as the Bobcats took a four-point lead, but in the long run Baldwin’s words seemed to do the trick. Fulton pulled away from Bowling Green in the fourth quarter en route to a 61-54 victory to put the Hornets in Saturday night’s championship.

Fulton took a while to get started after the opening tipoff, but it soon became apparent that the Hornets’ up-tempo offense and pestering defense was going to be the law on this night.

From about midway through the first quarter until halftime, Baldwin’s squad made a point of deflecting any and every pass and putting no less than two defenders on any Bowling Green player who had the ball.

“That’s our style of play and that’s how we want to play. We want to get out and force turnovers and speed them up,” Baldwin said. “They made a run at us, but we picked our intensity back up because everything for us starts with our defense.”

Offensively, it was the Hornets’ backcourt that filled much of the stat column. Senior point guard Anthony Porter, who caught grief from Baldwin early on about straying from the game plan, settled in nicely as the contest wore on.

Porter — one of three Fulton players in double figures — led the Hornets with a game-high 20 points, including three 3-pointers.

“He’s learning to play within our system and he gets a little out of control sometimes,” Baldwin said. “I just have to reel him back in a little bit, but he’s learning and doing a much better job than he has in the past.

“He just needs to learn to distinguish a good shot.”

Fellow senior guards Rob Pittman and Derek Musgrove had 14 and 12 points, respectively. After closing the third quarter with a 40-36 lead, the Hornets jumped out to a double-digit lead for the first time Thursday night and led by as many as 13 points in the final period.

Much of that was due to a concerted effort to control the glass inside. Fulton senior forward Nick Christensen scored nine points, but really made his mark holding down the low-post area. Baldwin moved senior guard Jermaine Gray down to the forward position to take advantage of his energy and penchant for getting in the passing lanes.

In turn, that allowed Christensen to bear down on his man.

“Nick took it upon himself and said he’s not going to let his guy score on him,” Baldwin said. “He contested some shots and did a good job of blocking out, and I think we did a good job blocking out late and get every single rebound.”

Still, the Hornets didn’t ice the game completely in the fourth quarter. One area Baldwin couldn’t quite grasp was his team’s second-half free-throw shooting. Porter, in particular, made just 4-of-10 free throws, but as a team the Hornets shot just 18-of-31 from the line.

A few of those misses could have put the game out of reach sooner rather than later.

Coach and team are still getting used to one another. The win is one that Baldwin will remember for being his first as a head coach, but one that he hopes his team remembers.

The Hornets didn’t impose their game plan as much as they would like, but then again, there are many more games to worry about that.

“I don’t think they understand how hard we have to play from start to finish yet, but once we get that down, I think we’ll be a really good team,” Baldwin said. “But it’s a work in progress and it’s always a good feeling to get that first one under your belt.”

Senior guard Jeff Pease paced Bowling Green with 15 points.

Fulton will face either No. 2 New Haven or No. 3 Mexico in the title game at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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