Three games in three nights could make a slug out of even the most well conditioned basketball teams. But don't tell that to Fulton head coach Marques Baldwin, whose team finished up a triumvirate of tip-off's on Sunday in the final game of the 18th annual MFA Oil/Break Time Shootout at Mizzou Arena.
And though both team's - Fulton and the North Central Missouri Conference-rival Mexico Bulldogs - both battled fits of ineptitude, Baldwin points to one thing that put the Bulldogs over the top.
"They understand about making winning plays," Baldwin said. "Whey they needed someone to step up and make a bucket, they got that. When they needed to make a stop, they got that, too."
Stops and buckets are at times taken for granted but they ended up being the difference in Sunday's 41-32 loss by the Hornets. The Highway 54 foes combined to shoot just 33 percent from the field and turned the ball over 19 times between them.
Fulton lost for the second time in three games this weekend and for the eighth time in 11 games. The Hornets (9-8) struggled mightily from the field in the first half, knocking down just 5-of-20 field goals but closed out the first half scoring with the last four points to be down just 21-14.
"I think it was a little bit of nerves playing on this new floor and in this new environment but overall it's just basketball," Baldwin said. "When you miss lay-ups and free throws you are going to struggle to win basketball games."
After winning at Marshall by a score of 73-64 on Saturday afternoon, some of that momentum would have been nice to have on this night. The Hornets (9-8, 4-4 NCMC) scored one less point in the fourth quarter of that contest (31) than they did in four quarters against Mexico.
"We hoped to bring that momentum from the Marshall game and the energy that we played with in the fourth quarter," Baldwin said. "We got out and ran for some easy buckets in transition and we were able to do that a little today, too."
Those came courtesy of senior guard Anthony Porter, who was one of three players from both team's to lead all scorer's with nine points. Porter hit back-to-back buckets in the opening minutes of the third quarter to draw the Hornets to within five points at 23-18 with two minutes and 48 seconds gone in the half.
"I think we were able to keep it close but we never made winning basketball plays and those are little things that we have to correct," Baldwin said.
One play, in particular, was made by Mexico and more or less summed up the way his team's night went Norm Stewart Court. About 17 seconds later, Mexico junior guard Austin Reed hit a 3-pointer from the left corner (the only one for either team on the night) to push the lead back to eight points.
The Bulldogs (18-0, 8-0 NCMC) would never let the Hornets get any closer than that.
"I think it comes down to us being able to sustain intensity for an entire game and I don't think we were able to do that tonight," Baldwin said.
All other numbers for both team's were pretty even, albeit unremarkable. Both struggled from the foul line and Mexico ended up winning the rebounding battle 34-32. But the ability to answer a scoring run and close out is what put Mexico over the top.
And it's something that Baldwin is still looking for his team to be able to do. With just over a month left in the season, including a February 18 season-finale against this same Mexico team, he hopes it'll come.
"I have to keep working at it and expect the winning mentality to come," Baldwin said. "You want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season whether that's the end of February or the beginning of March. Whenver that comes."
The Hornets were set to play in the Southern Boone Tournament starting Tuesday but the inclimate weather has pushed the start of that tournament back to Thursday.