The Hannibal boys basketball team clawed to tie the game in the fourth quarter before falling to undefeated Fulton 59-51 in the conference opener.

Time was of the essence for the Hannibal boys basketball team as it launched a fourth-quarter comeback attempt Tuesday night against North Central Missouri Conference foe Fulton.

Down seven points, Dezi Jones provided a spark, scoring consecutive buckets to cap an 8-1 run that pulled the Pirates even with the visiting Hornets at 45 with 4:21 remaining.

The momentum reversed over the next 16 seconds.

Fulton ramped up its pressure with a full-court press to wreak havoc on Hannibal. Hornets junior AJ Reid came up with a steal and dished to senior Cameron Vaughn to retake the lead before senior Tre Vaughn capitalized on another Pirates turnover.

“We got a little disorganized on the press and got in too big a hurry,” said Hannibal first-year coach Marty Hull. “That's something easy to work on. We did work on it quite a bit, but late in the game, that's the heart-crunching time and you're bound to make a few mistakes with a brand new coach, new system, new expectations.”

Undefeated Fulton (4-0) scored 14 of the last 20 points, including nine made free throws in the final period, to hand Hannibal (1-4) a 59-51 loss at Korf Gymnasium in the first NCMC matchup for each ball club.

Cameron Vaughn led the Hornets with 18 points, while Reid came to life with eight of his 10 points in the second half.

“Our guys just hung in there,” Fulton coach Justin Gilmore said. “They were tough and fought, especially at the end when we started pressing. We got a couple steals for some easy buckets, but Hannibal is a great team and it was a tough one tonight.”

It was all Hannibal early on.

Pirates senior Wyatt Waelder turned a steal on defense into a layup on offense for the first points of the night. Sophomore Preston Bennett followed with a 3-pointer before Waelder scored again in transition to cap a 7-0 burst in the first two minutes.

“We were just looking to run,” Hull said. “We were rebounding. At the time we were limiting them to one shot and we were getting out in the fast break. But as we got tired, those rebounds didn't come as easy so we struggled a little bit after that.”

Hannibal senior Evan Sanders provided a bright spot on defense near the end of the first quarter, taking a charge before recording a block and steal on back-to-back Fulton possessions. Bennett took advantage of the steal with a score that gave the Pirates a 14-11 lead with 56 seconds left in the period.

Sanders didn't score during the game, but that didn't keep Hull from trusting his decision to put him in the starting lineup.

“What he does doesn't show up in the stat book but that's what coaches notice and that's why he's on the floor a lot, because of his effort,” the coach said.

Fulton's Nazir McClain knocked down a pair of free throws before David Fague scored right before the first-quarter buzzer to give the Hornets their first lead of the night at 15-14.

Waelder drilled a 3-pointer early in the second quarter before Adreke Brumbaugh, who came up with eight rebounds in the first half, scored in the post off an assist from Jones to give Hannibal a 19-17 lead with 6:28 left until halftime.

That was the Pirates' last lead of the game as Hannibal managed just one more field goal the rest of the first half.

Cameron Vaughn caught Hannibal napping on an inbounds play to put in a point-blank score and also converted an old-fashioned 3-point play with four seconds remaining to grow Fulton's halftime edge to 30-22.

John Trenhaile, Brumbaugh and Jones each provided buckets for Hannibal to start the second half, but Reid then took over to score eight straight to build Fulton's lead to 10.

“Just seems like this whole year it's always been somebody different to step up in each game,” Gilmore said. “We've got 15 guys down there and it could be anyone of them on any night. Tonight it happened to be AJ and he had some clutch moments for us.”

Andrew Vaia, a guard off the bench for the Pirates, took a pair of charges as part of a 12-3 run to get back into the game before the comeback fell short.

Jones finished with 17 points to pace Hannibal, while Waelder recorded 16 in Hannibal's fourth single-digit loss of the season.

“Eight points is our largest deficit this year,” Hull said. “We're right there. We're close. We're really close. They work their tails off every single day. I just want to give credit to everybody on the team that's playing because they get after it every single day and they're improving.”

Hannibal hosts Quincy Notre Dame on Saturday night.