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Ron Lievense’s 500th victory as a collegiate head coach, at a visceral level, spoke to his roots.
Growing up and playing basketball in Minnesota, the heart of Big Ten country, he was no stranger to physical, rough-and-tumble affairs.
Saturday’s grind-it-out style for his Barton College Bulldogs inside Wilson Gym was just that.
Facing Erskine in the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas opener for both teams, the Bulldogs were without a pair of usual starters in juniors Blake Burdack and Isaiah Reddish. Junior Shemar Hudson, a product of Hunt High, was also sidelined.
But despite shooting just 38.1% from the field on 23-of-76 shooting, the Bulldogs held the Flying Fleet to 30.3% (23 of 76) from the field and toughed out a 67-63 win for their their third straight win to reach .500 after an 0-3 start. Erskine dropped to 2-4.
“The first win to the 500th win are all special,” Lievense said. “Because a coach doesn’t win a game. The players win the game. What it means is I’ve been really blessed to have amazing players and great administration, great athletic directors and presidents that make that happen. For me, it’s just a true blessing and I thank the Lord for that, because when I was 27 and a head coach, I never thought I’d ever see 500 wins!”
Barton went ahead to stay on junior David Campbell’s layup with 13:24 remaining. However, the Bulldogs couldn’t shake the Flying Fleet despite going up 59-49 on the second of two Campbell free throws with just 4:55 remaining.
Erskine went on a 10-3 run to pull within a single possession on Jaywaun Washington’s layup at the 1:04 mark.
But the Bulldogs ran a set play as the clock ticked under a minute. Senior Michael Boykin received a pass, curled around a screen and knocked down an elbow jumper with 32 seconds left.
Erskine pulled within three once more, but with the Flying Fleet in foul mode, a trio of free throws over the final 20.8 seconds allowed the Bulldogs to ice the outcome.
Senior Isaiah Buck-Lowman had a double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds, while Campbell, a beneficiary of Barton’s injury-plagued early season, had 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
“At Barton, we believe in next man up,” Campbell said. “The next guy steps up and does what we have to do. Coach preaches that every day, so everybody is ready whenever their name is called.”
Leading 30-26 at halftime, Barton overcame seven 3-pointers in the first half from the Fleet, including four by Green in the game’s first 10 minutes. But the Bulldogs made the switch from zone to a man-to-man approach, and Erskine went a woeful 0 for 13 from long range in the second half.
In winning the rebounding battle by a 54-46 margin, three Bulldogs — Buck-Lowman, junior Matt Elmore and senior Jeff Gordon all snared double-digit rebounds.
“I don’t think anytime in my career have I ever had three guys in double-figure rebounds,” Lievense said. “I cannot ever remember ever having a game that I’ve coached where three guys had more than double-figures.”
Lievense expects Burdack to return by Nov. 30 against Augusta. Reddish is day-to-day, while Hudson remains sidelined as he awaits test results.
“We’ve had five concussions, two shoulder separations, we’ve had multiple knee issues. You name it, we’ve had it. We’re still trying to find each other.”
Yet a team still searching for chemistry delivered a milestone win for Lievense, now in his 25th season at Barton and 33rd in college coaching.
“I didn’t even know that was going to be 500 for him today,” Buck-Lowman said of Lievense. “But it felt real good to get that for him.”