Hornets succumb to No. 4 Mexico as regular season comes to close

Dak Dillon/FULTON SUN photo: Fulton senior forward Nick Christensen tries to slip a shot over the outstretched hand of Mexico senior Dillon Shoemaker during the Hornets’ 54-31 loss to the No. 4 Bulldogs on Friday night at Roger D. Davis Gymnasium.

Dak Dillon/FULTON SUN photo: Fulton senior forward Nick Christensen tries to slip a shot over the outstretched hand of Mexico senior Dillon Shoemaker during the Hornets’ 54-31 loss to the No. 4 Bulldogs on Friday night at Roger D. Davis Gymnasium.

A game that had laugher potential in the early going was, with 3 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first half, just a one-point affair.

Fulton senior guard Anthony Porter had just splashed his third straight basket — a long 2-pointer — to cut the Hornets’ deficit to the rival Mexico Bulldogs to just 16-15. After being down 13-5 at the end of the first quarter, the Hornets used a 10-3 run over the first 4:08 of the second period to get back within striking distance.

But just as quickly as Fulton seemed to right the ship, Mexico busted a few holes in the bow that eventually sunk it.

“He (Porter) hit some open shots because we executed really well and created those looks for him, and he stepped up and made them like he is supposed to,” Fulton head coach Marques Baldwin said. “We cut it to one, but then we gave up a quick layup because we couldn’t get back in transition fast enough and it just compiled from there.”

Mexico — ranked No. 4 in Class 4 — clamped down from that point on and outscored Fulton 10-0 to end the half, cruising to a 54-31 North Central Missouri Conference win over the Hornets in Friday night’s regular-season finale in packed Roger D. Davis Gymnasium.

Baldwin hadn’t received Fulton’s final tallies in shooting percentage or rebounding disparity, but what he saw on the court told him most of what he already knew.

Mexico’s lofty 23-1 record didn’t beat Fulton. The Hornets’ collective inability to attend to the little details ultimately doomed them.

“We shot under 30 percent again in field goals, 3-pointers and missed free throws, and it doesn’t matter who you are playing, especially not a good team, you’re not going to beat a good team when you do that,” Baldwin said. “And I think we gave up at least 20-plus offensive rebounds and when you do that, you beat yourself.”

For a few long, frustrating stretches, Fulton (11-11, 5-7 NCMC) couldn’t convert a layup or knock down a jump shot. While that was going on, everything seemed to be falling right for Mexico, which did most of its damage on the offensive glass.

“The layups have been there all season and I don’t know what it is in terms of our concentration,” Fulton senior forward Blake Calvin said. “In terms of rebounding, they just wanted it more and they put a body on us, and just went after it.”

Senior forward Marcus Bush led the Bulldogs with a game-high 19 points, five coming during the Bulldogs’ run at the end of the first half that sent them into halftime with a 26-15 lead.

“He (Bush) is a very athletic guy and I give him props for wanting it more,” Calvin added. “He’s a good ballplayer and my hat is off to him.”

Calvin scored six points for the Hornets, second to Porter’s team-high 11. Fulton lost its fifth straight home game; the last victory at Roger D. Davis Gymnasium came in a 57-49 NCMC triumph over Kirksville on Dec. 17.

Since that win — which put them at 5-1 on the season — the Hornets lost 10 of their final 16 games, with no back-to-back victories and and losing streaks reaching as many as three games.

And that’s how Fulton will enter the District 10 Tournament in Eldon. The No. 4 seed Hornets take on No. 5 School of the Osage in the first round at 7:30 p.m. Monday. The winner moves on to face No. 1 Helias in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

No. 10 Helias handed Fulton a 64-36 loss on Jan. 21 in Jefferson City.

During the regular season, teams in the Hornets’ district — which include No. 2 Eldon and No. 3 Boonville — went 3-1 against Fulton. In fact, the Hornets’ second half swoon began after a 56-44 home loss to Eldon on Dec. 21 that wasn’t as close as the score might indicate.

“They need to come out focused because there is no tomorrow,” Baldwin said. “We have a tough district, but it doesn’t matter who you play this time of the year. It just matters that you execute better than them and want it more.”

Top-seeded Mexico — which captured the NCMC title with a perfect 12-0 record — hosts the District 8 Tournament and received a first-round bye. The Bulldogs will play either No. 4 Marshall or No. 5 Kirksville in the semifinals Wednesday night.

“I think they’re a very good basketball team and I give them a chance to go as far as they can go,” Baldwin said. “There are some very good teams in our class, but in the end it depends on how well they play each night.”

Fulton will take a similar attitude into district play. Though they are less celebrated than their Highway 54 rivals this season, the Hornets’ survival instincts are on alert.

“Our mindset is one-and-done, especially for us seniors,” Calvin said. “We want this to go on a little longer and want to give our best shot the rest of the season, knowing we left it all on the court.”

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