Tuesday night's game between the Fulton Hornets and the visiting Eldon Mustangs may best be served as a cautionary tale.
For weeks, first-year Hornets head coach Marques Baldwin had warned his team of a game like this.
At some point, Baldwin would need a full-throttle 32 minutes out of his squad against a quality opponent. Not 23 or 24 minutes. A complete 32.
Tuesday night was that scenario.
"I've been telling them over and over again, "Fellas, you can't keep dodging that bullet because if you play bad, it'll catch up to you,'" Baldwin said. "And tonight it absolutely caught up with us."
The Mustangs took their sneakers and stepped down hard on the throats of the Hornets and rarely let them up for air in a 56-44 win at Roger D. Davis Gymnasium that was not as close as the final score might indicate.
Fulton's deficit floated around the 15- to 20-point area for much of the game, but was only chipped away at in the final minutes against Eldon's reserves.
The Hornets (6-2) - who watched their five-game winning streak come crashing down - had skated by with wins in its last two games behind lackluster shooting numbers. However, the Mustangs came out firing early Tuesday night to make sure that was not the case.
Eldon (3-3) used backdoor cuts, timely outside shooting and finish after finish at the rim to jump out to a 14-6 lead at the end of the first quarter and led 27-14 at halftime.
Fulton had no answer for Eldon senior Cannon Carlock and junior John Hall's combined efficiency from the field. Carlock led all scorers with 20 points and Hall had 15.
"They controlled the game and played it the way that they wanted to, and their guards beat our guards," Baldwin said. "They just beat us."
When the Mustangs went on a 13-0 run in the first 2:23 of the third quarter, highlighted by two 3-pointers from junior Tyan Kliethermes, a 13-point advantage jumped to a meaty 26-point cushion.
"They made open shots and our style is to fly around and wreak havoc, not give up open shots," Baldwin said. "I don't think we came out with the same intensity and the same fire that we need to win.
"I keep telling them that once the lights come on, it's up to them and they didn't come out and execute tonight."
Late 3-pointers from senior guard Derek Musgrove and sophomore guard Deon Galbreath, who led the team with 10 points, made the the final result look cosmetically better.
Fulton may run into Eldon down the road again in district play. Until then, the Hornets have a week without basketball of any kind and Tuesday night's loss will undoubtedly stick with them until practice picks back up again. The Hornets take on their next opponent, North Central Missouri Conference foe Hannibal, on Jan. 4.
"I would much rather go into the break 7-1 off of a strong win than 6-2, but it's not the way we wanted to go into break," Baldwin said. "We wanted to go in having one game where we felt like we played an entire game."