Bulldogs blow lead, game to Trojans

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The one that got away.

After leading for more than 34 consecutive minutes, the Barton College men’s basketball team couldn’t overcome poor execution the final three minutes and, in the showdown for undisputed possession of the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas lead, was staggered 76-75 by archrival University of Mount Olive before the largest Wilson Gymnasium turnout of the season on Wednesday night.

Trailing 8-4, the Bulldogs seized their first lead at 10-8 on sophomore Michael Boykin’s lay-in with 15 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the first half.

The Trojans never led or tied the score again until 6-foot-4 junior Jamaal Matin swished the winning jump shot with 31.3 seconds remaining for the final score.

Barton played for the final shot and took a time-out with 8.5 seconds left. Head coach Ron Lievense said the time-out came several seconds later than he instructed.

When play resumed, Boykin attempted to drive but slipped and put up an off-balanced shot. Bobby Stenborg, a 6-5 junior, managed a hurried putback attempt that didn’t drop.

“We wanted to drive the basketball,” Lievense said of the final sequence, “but it didn’t go our way. It looked like (Boykin) slipped and was off-balance. That’s something you can’t control.”

Thus, the Trojans, losers in two of three meetings against Barton last season, emerged with sole possession of the conference lead at 6-0 and improved to 10-5 in all games. The hard-to-take loss in the Dog House left the Bulldogs at 5-1 and 9-7, respectively.

“This was a pretty special team effort,” commented 10th-year Mount Olive head coach Joey Higginbotham. “The defense pulled us through. Mentally, we were not ready to play a Mount Olive-Barton game at the start. But we came over here and kind of stole one away. We had a big stop at the end.”

Dominique Tham, a 6-5 junior, paced the Trojans with a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Cameron Robinson netted 12 points and Darius Spragley, a 6-3 freshman from Northern Nash High, added 10.

Sophomore Jeff Gordon led Barton with 18 points and seven rebounds. Stenborg and 6-6 sophomore Isaiah Buck-Lowman each bucketed 14 points and 6-5 freshman Isaiah Reddish canned 11. Boykin had six assists.

Barton outbattled the Trojans 39-35 on the backboards, but Lievense lamented: “Those 17 turnovers against that team killed us.”

The Trojans were charged with just 10 turnovers.

Reddish, then Stenborg sparked Barton to a 27-16 margin in the first half. The Bulldogs twice led by 13 points before settling for a 47-35 halftime lead.

After the Trojans closed the deficit to six points early in the second half, Barton spurted to a 62-49 margin with 13:17 remaining on Gordon’s lay-in off a steal.

With Robinson draining a pair of 3-point shots and Alan Treakle swishing a pair of free throws, Mount Olive trailed only 68-67.

Barton’s Matt Woods, a 6-2 junior, scored on a feed from Stenborg and then drilled in a 3-point shot for a 73-67 edge..

The Trojans proceeded to miss four shots from point-blank range and a 3-point attempt went in — but popped out. Barton owned a 75-67 cushion with 3:52 showing.

“I was proudest of my team for how it handled that stretch,” declared Higginbotham. “We could have packed our bags and taken a butt-whipping.”

The Bulldogs then committed three consecutive turnovers, but Mount Olive answered with two missed perimeter shots and a miss on a contested layup.

However, Barton struggled at the foul line, with its passing and attempting shots. Finally, Robinson delivered for the Trojans.

“We had four turnovers during the stretch when we didn’t get off a shot,” Lievense complained. “Four turnovers in under two minutes really hurt us. Careless passes were the difference.

“It was a war. I wish we could have taken better care of the ball at the end. We played absolutely our hearts out and gave it everything we had, We just didn’t execute well down the stretch.”

Higginbotham noted halftime defensive adjustments included his Trojans not gambling as much for steals.

“We did it with defense and rebounding — which is what you’ve got to do to beat Barton,” he szaid. “It was a typical knock-down, drag-out Mount Olive-Barton game. It was a great win against a great team and a great program.”