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Hornets’ resolve results in fourth straight victory

Stephanie Backus/FULTON SUN photo: Fulton senior guard Anthony Porter glides past a Kirksville defender during the Hornets’ 57-49 NCMC victory over the Tigers on Friday night at Roger D. Davis Gymnasium. Porter finished with a team-high 10 points for Fulton, which extended its winning streak to four games.

Stephanie Backus/FULTON SUN photo: Fulton senior guard Anthony Porter glides past a Kirksville defender during the Hornets’ 57-49 NCMC victory over the Tigers on Friday night at Roger D. Davis Gymnasium. Porter finished with a team-high 10 points for Fulton, which extended its winning streak to four games.

There’s a rule when the Fulton Hornets basketball team practices — no ball can hit the wall.

If deflections, rejections and other plays of that ilk can be touched, they can be kept in play, says Fulton first-year head coach Marques Baldwin. Players have tried to find loopholes in the rule, but Baldwin is always ready with an explanation.

So when Hornets sophomore guard Deon Galbreath swatted an attempted shot by Kirksville senior guard Brandon Vorkink out of bounds and almost out of Roger D. Davis Gymnasium with 1:41 to play Friday night, the last thing you’d expect Baldwin to do is stand up and cheer.

But that’s just what he did.

“That was a big play for us,” Baldwin said. “It was an energy play and we do try and keep blocks inbounds, but at that point that was an energy play and I can’t even be mad at him for that.”

Baldwin’s exuberance might have been the result of relief in seeing his team finally play the way he’d wanted and knew it could. The Hornets were in a battle until that point, with Galbreath’s effort being the exclamation point on a 57-49 North Central Missouri Conference victory over the Tigers.

To the credit of Kirksville, a one-win team at a noticeable size disadvantage, it didn’t make the win easy for the Hornets. However, if you ask Baldwin, his players might have taken the opposition for granted, something that shouldn’t and couldn’t be done this early in the season.

“I think they looked across the line and saw a smaller group of kids and probably saw their record at 1-6 or 1-7, or whatever they were, and thought, ‘OK, we’re going to come in and beat them tonight,’ because we’re Fulton and they’re Kirksville and we’re better than they are,” Baldwin said. “And that’s definitely not the case.”

From the opening tip, Kirksville saw fit to let Fulton know that this wasn’t going to be that kind of game. The Tigers were efficient and scrapped their way to a 25-19 halftime lead — moving consistently without the ball, hitting open shots and making the most of trips to the free-throw line.

In the meantime, the Hornets did none of that.

So rather than letting his players regroup in the locker room, rather than let them go to a quiet place to focus, Baldwin kept the team on the sidelines during the break. He took a knee in the middle of his squad and asked it to do one thing.

“They want to talk about how we’re a good team and how they’re state contenders, and I told them to make me a believer, that I wasn’t sold on our basketball team right now and that I wanted them to make me a believer and make me believe in the things they believe,” Baldwin said. “And if you look at the way we played in the first half, that wasn’t our basketball.”

The second half was, though. The Hornets (5-1, 3-0 NCMC) ran off six straight points in the first 1 minute, 51 seconds of the third quarter to tie the game at 25.

Kirksville (1-6, 0-3 NCMC) countered with six points of its own to get the lead back. The Hornets, after settling for jump shots and committing ill-advised turnovers on offense in the first half, went to the basket in the second half and then set up shop defensively in the Kirksville passing lanes.

“Our intensity wasn’t what it should have been before that,” Fulton senior guard Anthony Porter said. “Coach Baldwin got on our butts at halftime and we just picked it up.”

Porter’s 10 points was the only double-figure effort of the night for the Hornets, who have now won four in a row. After wrangling in a steal, Porter hit a 3-pointer with :32 left in the third quarter to cap off an 8-0 run and give the Hornets their first lead of the game at 38-36.

Kirksville would not get the lead back, coming no closer than three points for the remainder of the game. The Tigers were led by Vorkink’s game-high 14 points and another 10 from junior guard Nathan Lamp.

Senior forward Derek Musgrove and senior guards Jermaine Gray and Blake Calvin added nine points apiece for the Hornets, while Galbreath tallied six.

If the result on the floor didn’t show it, Baldwin stressed that if anything stood out Friday night, it was Fulton’s system and the play of any one person trying to carry it out.

“Our system won the game for us because we bought in to driving and making people help and kicking to the open guy,” Baldwin said. “Our big guys started presenting for the basketball and our guards started getting it to them, but I don’t think anybody on our team played particularly well.”

If the Hornets were impressed with their effort in the second half, Baldwin came away worried about the lopsided-ness of said effort. He is still waiting for his team to play four quarters the way he feels it can.

So instead of jumping out of his seat for a blocked ball out of bounds, Baldwin is holding out for the day that he can beam about Fulton playing a complete game. Not just a complete half.

“We had some breakdowns, but for the most part, every catch was contested, every cut was guarded,” Baldwin said. “That’s our style of basketball and until we can learn to do that consistently, we’re going to continue to be in these fights and struggle to put people away.”

The Hornets’ junior varsity team improved to 4-0 with a 56-23 victory over Kirksville on Friday night. Fulton got at least one point from every player, led by junior forward Jake Nickelson’s 21 points.

The Hornets played at Bowling Green late Saturday afternoon, but results were not available at press time. The two teams met in Fulton’s season opener, a 61-54 victory by the Hornets in the semifinals of the Montgomery County Tournament on Dec. 2.

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