During a press conference last Wednesday promoting today's MFA Oil/Break Time Shootout, Mexico Bulldogs head coach Brennan Scanlon made it known how big of an honor it was to be playing in the annual mid-Missouri prep basketball showcase.
And then Scanlon said this of his own team, with a record of 17-0 and ranked No. 4 among Missouri Class 4 teams.
"We are not a great team by any means, but we've got some kids who like to play basketball," Scanlon said.
Though the Bulldogs have won 13 of 17 games by 10 points or more and have an average margin of victory of just more than 19 points a game, Scanlon later wanted to clarify that statement.
"We're on our way, but what I meant is that we haven't played our best basketball," Scanlon said. "But our best basketball is a ways down the road."
Seated next to him was Fulton head coach Marques Baldwin, who leads his Hornets into tonight's Break Time Shootout finale against rival Mexico (tipoff at 8) at Mizzou Arena. In fact, Baldwin has similar hopes for his own team, which was staying afloat with an 8-7 record before Saturday's NCMC game at Marshall.
"He's on the right path because you never want to say your team is the best it can be halfway through the season," Baldwin said. "We're a few plays away from being 10-4 or 12-2, and it comes down to wanting to play your best at the end of the season."
The Highway 54 rivalry writes its next chapter on the home court of the No. 11 Missouri Tigers' Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball, and both sides can't downplay the importance and the excitement that they'll get from playing in what is, essentially, a prime-time game.
Not that it needed any more hype.
"We take a game like that and put it in an arena where our kids can play in a big-time college arena and not too many people can say they've done that," Baldwin said.
"It's starting to sink in that we get to play on a big-time stage," Hornets senior forward Blake Calvin said. "They got us earlier this season, but we hope to give them their first loss of the season."
The "get" Calvin was referring to was a 57-44 Mexico win over Fulton in the championship of the Montgomery County Tournament on Dec. 4. In fact, tonight's meeting will be the second of three between these the North Central Missouri Conference adversaries, who have split the season series the past two years.
Still, stakes have not been this high, especially for Mexico, for at least as long as any of the current Hornets have been around. Both teams played Friday night - Fulton lost at home 63-52 to Boonville while Mexico thrashed Marshall 77-29 - and are letting themselves get more and more excited about the prospects that lie ahead.
Baldwin is also stressing to his squad what a win like this could mean for his group, losers of five of its last seven before Saturday's game and struggling with consistent play.
"It's like Coach Baldwin said to us about how do we want to be remembered," Hornets senior guard Rob Pittman said. "We want to be remembered as the team who gave them (Mexico) their first loss of the season and knocked them from being undefeated."
But both coaches would also like to curb the emotions. Fulton jumps into play at the Southern Boone Classic on Tuesday night, while Mexico travels to face Helias in Jefferson City that same night.
Of course, there's the regular-season finale between the Hornets and Bulldogs at Roger D. Davis Gymnasium on Feb. 18.
"The biggest thing is being the team that goes on to win a district championship and goes on further than that," Baldwin said. "This is a great game, a very good test for us at this point in the season, but no matter what, we have to play Mexico again."
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The 18th-annual MFA Oil/Break Time Shootout starts this morning. Here is the schedule of games: 11:40 a.m. - La Plata vs. Glasgow; 1:20 p.m. - Schuyler County vs. Harrisburg; 3 p.m. - Higginsville vs. Carrollton; 4:40 p.m. - Helias vs. Wentzville Holt; 6:20 p.m. - Southern Boone vs. Blair Oaks; 8 p.m. - Mexico vs. Fulton.