LANARK – Points have been difficult to come by during the Fulton High School boys basketball team's tumultuous 3-10 start this season – and a three-day break from the hardwood did not reverse its fortune.
The Steamers' scoring efforts sputtered again in a lopsided 65-44 loss to Freeport Aquin in the first of a Eastland Holiday Tournament twinbill Wednesday night, marking the team's fifth consecutive loss.
Nonetheless, Fulton coach RJ Coffey was more concerned with the Steamers' ineffectiveness on the other side of the ball.
"We did not defend very well," Coffey said. "We allowed them to get buckets in transition. Communication was a big struggle for us and hurt us... we did not talk our way through any type of screening or in transition situations."
Connor Barnett scored four of his nine points on back-to-back possessions in the early moments of the second half, as his mid-range jumper cut Aquin's lead to 34-31 with 6:20 remaining in the third quarter.
But that was as close as the Steamers would get, as the team committed turnovers in their next two possessions after a Bulldogs' timeout, allowing the lead to swell back to 41-31 and effectively put the outcome to rest.
Fulton, who fell in the regional final last season, graduated a senior cast that featured two All-State honorable mentions and a pair of 6-foot-5 forwards, leaving a glaring void in the final column of the box score every night.
Coffey says a consistent, go-to scoring option has not yet emerged from the fold this season.
"When they go on a run like that [third quarter], that is where you need to have a guy that can make a play for you on either end [of the court]," Coffey said. "Right now, we just haven't found that guy on the offensive end... we have to do it as a group."
The sixth-year coach, who is just three wins from 100 for his coaching career, suggested players are over-compensating for the loss of proven scorers Taylor Bruggenwirth and Cody Sanderson, who both turned in impressive senior seasons in 2017.
"We have some guys [this season] that have tried to do too much at times... that leads to turnovers and poor shot selection," Coffey said. "It is something we have to work on."
Fulton senior Kyle Schipper matched Aquin's William Gustafson for the game-high with 20 points, including 11 in the first half. Barnett's nine points was the second-most for a Steamer, followed by seven from Keegan Kloepping.
"I thought Schipper played better for us in the first half," Coffey said. "We had a decent amount of looks tonight but just did not make shots."
Game two: Eastland 65, Fulton 54
In the second game of Fulton's opening-round doubleheader, the Steamers pieced together a more complete offensive effort but once again fell victim to a shoddy second half in a loss to tournament host Eastland.
Fulton started fast out of the gates behind six 3-pointers in the first half but a three-point third quarter ultimately allowed Eastland to gain separation and clinch a 65-54 victory.
Kyler Pessman and Kloepping both made a pair of long-distance shots in the first quarter and Pessman added another in the second quarter to take a 41-40 lead into halftime, nearly eclipsing the Steamers' total from the first game (44 points) in two quarters.
But the Steamers converted just two shots from the field in the second half – one in both quarters – and relied on free throws for 8 of 13 points after halftime.
Pessman finished with a team-high 15 points. Schipper added 11 points and Kloepping had 11.
With the loss, Fulton dropped to 3-10 overall this season and 0-2 in the tournament. The Steamers will take on South Beloit Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. at EHS.