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If the ideal Senior Day is a stress-free environment that celebrates the contributions of two- and four-year players while polishing up for a stretch run, then the Barton College men’s basketball team received just that Saturday afternoon in Wilson Gym.
Flashing the unselfishness on offense that has the Bulldogs ranked No. 4 in all of NCAA Division II in assists per game, Barton handed out 26 more helpings on its 34 field goals in a 86-63 outclassing of undermanned Southern Wesleyan.
Barton’s five seniors, Matt Woods, Zach Grant, Bobby Stenborg, Isaiah Jones and Chris Cook all started as the Bulldogs, who own five- and six-game winning streaks this season, improved to 17-7 overall and 10-4 in Conference Carolinas play, remaining in third place within the league standings. Southern Wesleyan, presenting with just eight players, staggered to 2-22 in all games and 1-13 in conference play.
Eight players had at least one assist for the Bulldogs, including four of their five starters. Entering play, Barton handed out an average of 19.1 assists per game to stand among the national elite.
“These guys have done that all year,” veteran Barton head coach Ron Lievense said of finding the open man. “You think about all the assists that these guys have on the season and how long they’ve been doing it. It’s not like it’s a one-time thing. These guys have done that all year long, and I’m really proud of them for that.”
Barton’s efficiency in passing up a good look for an even better one at the basket allowed the Bulldogs, who never trailed, to shoot 34 of 67 for 50.7 percent accuracy. Southern Wesleyan, which was systematically worn down as matters pressed onward, made 23 of 55 shots, good for a 41.8-percent showing.
Woods made all six of his shots in the first half en route to a 7-for-10 showing, leading four Barton players in double figures with 16 points. He added five assists, showing no trouble passing up a 3-point attempt for a cutter diving into the lane for an easy layup. Barton was selective from 3-point range, making 9 of 26. Sophomore Jake Kakar was 3 for 5 from beyond the arc.
Junior Michael Boykin paced Barton with six assists off the bench. Grant and Stenborg both handed out four.
“We just know if we keep sharing the ball and have a high-assist game, we’re hard to beat,” Woods said. “As long as we keep sharing it, we’ll be good.”
Barton’s superior depth enabled it to squash the Warriors by a 55-13 margin off the bench. Sophomore forward Isaiah Reddish blossomed in a reserve role at 6-foot-5, getting 14 points and seven rebounds. Junior Blake Burdack, after being fallen on by a Southern Wesleyan player in the second half, returned and finished off a double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds.
The 44-27 rebounding advantage rested with the Bulldogs. Leading 44-26 at halftime, Barton’s lead reached as many as 32 on Kakar’s 3-pointer with 5:26 remaining, and the bench was emptied with just over three minutes to play. Fifteen Barton players saw playing time as Woods’ 27 minutes represented the most labor from the Bulldogs.
“All of our seniors obviously, this was a big game for us,” Woods said. “We just came in with a lot of energy.”
Jalen Lowery and Jacob Smith led the Warriors with 19 and 13 points, respectively.
With the victory, Barton was able to pick up a game on league leader Emmanuel College. Emmanuel, eligible for postseason play for the first time, was beaten 82-75 at home by Mount Olive on Saturday, the latter of which will serve as Barton’s opponent in its regular-season home finale Tuesday.
A win by the Trojans would allow them to tie Barton for third place in the standings before the Bulldogs close with three consecutive road games at Lees-McRae, King and Limestone.
“We’re in the fight,” Lievense said. “Everything rests with what these guys decide to do. They can win every game, or we could lose every game depending on preparation. Right now, these guys are doing a really great job.”