MURRAY– Patience and persistence almost paid big-time dividends for underdog Fulton City Monday night.
Favored Marshall County’s talent by itself wasn’t enough. But hustle plus talent lifted the Marshals to a 49-30 victory over the Bulldogs in the First Region boys’ basketball tournament semifinal.
The Marshals will meet Paducah Tilghman, a 70-56 winner over St. Mary in the second semi, for the champions tonight at 7 p.m. at Murray State University’s CFSB Center. The winner goes to the Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena in Lexington next week.
Coach Jimmy Long’s Fulton City team showed great discipline against an almost-airtight Marshall County defense, turning the obstacle into a tactic to slow the pace, shorten the game and minimize the Marshals’ superior talent and depth.
At halftime, that had yielded a 15-7 score. The slim six-point advantage proved extremely difficult for the Marshals to achieve.
The Marshals broke away from a 10-9 advantage after a timeout with 4:16 left before halftime. Chase York stole the ball near midcourt and as he drove toward the basket, he made eye contact with 6-5 center Austin Rentfrow, who was trailing the play. York bounced the ball off the backboard, setting up Rentfrow for a rim-rattling, two-handed slam dunk that sent the orange-clad crowd into a frenzy.
Not quite as noticeable were the hustle plays – Cole Nelson throwing himself on the floor to win a battle for a loose ball, Logan Taylor sticking to Bulldog point guard Vance Maze as if there were a Velcro attachment between the two and forcing a held ball call, Peter Northcutt’s steal and drive, drawing a foul on the Bulldogs’ 6-8 Jordan Miller.
The Marshals steadily drew away in the second half as the Bulldogs, with only nine players in uniform, lost energy. The exception was burly Khalil Frame, who maneuvered at will in the paint and led the ‘Dogs with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Miller fouled out in the third period, leaving the game with seven points and a dozen rebounds.
Nelson led the Marshals with 19 points. The senior point guard also handed out three assists and had three steals.
Chase Clark added 14 points despite foul trouble that limited his time on the floor, and Rentfrow had 11 points and a team-high six rebounds.
The 31-2 Marshals take on 18-13 Tilghman at 7 p.m. tonight in a rematch of last year’s region finale, when Marshall County staged a second-half rally to overtake a favored Tilghman team and win the school’s first region championship since 1995.