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Junior guard Zach Grant jump-started the second-half turnaround. Bobby Stenborg, a 6-foot-5 junior, and Isaiah Buck-Lowman, a 6-6 sophomore, spearheaded a passionate, determined finish.
The result was sweet revenge for the Barton College men’s basketball team before a small turnout in Wilson Gymnasium on Thursday night in the form of an 89-85 thriller against No. 21-ranked University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Grant termed the “big (NCAA Division II Southeast) region win” as an early Christmas present.
“You can call it an early Christmas present if you want,” commented Bulldogs head coach Ron Lievense,”but this was a great win for our guys. They are a heckuva basketball team.”
Grant poured in a career-high 19 points to lead five Bulldogs in double-figure scoring. Stenborg and Michael Boykin each tossed in 17 points, while Buck-Lowman netted 14 and Jeff Gordon 12. Stenborg and Boykin each pulled down six rebounds. Boykin dished out four assists and Grant three. Nine rebounds from Blake Burdack, a 6-8 freshman, keyed Barton to a 41-37 rebounding advantage.
“The coaches wanted me to play aggressive off ball screens and I did the best I could,” Grant reviewed. “I hit some open shots. Michael fed me a couple of times. I was in a rhythm and played within in the game.”
The fourth consecutive win vaulted Barton to 6-4, while the Braves lost for the second time in seven outings.
The Bulldogs never owned the lead until Burdack connected on a layup for a 60-59 margin with 9 minutes, 58 seconds remaining. Pembroke had owned the lead since breaking from a 4-4 standoff with a 6-0 spree.
Trailing 60-59, the Braves, despite woes at the foul line, regained the lead with five consecutive points on foul tosses
However, Barton surged to a 69-65 margin on Buck-Lowman’s 3-pointer with 6:18 remaining. An acrosbatic three-point play from Stenborg with 2:18 showing and a bucket from Buck-Lowman on a nifty assist from Boykin produced Barton’s biggest lead of 82-74.
However, the Bulldogs had to withstand a 3-point assault from Pembroke’s David Strother, a 6-2 freshman.
But a pair of free throws from Buck-Lowman with 1:17 to go and another by Gordon with only nine seconds left resulted in an 89-82 Barton margin and sealed the outcome.
The Braves converted only 16 of 29 free throws as comapred to 17 of 25 for Barton.
However, Braves head coach Ben Miller was not blaming shaky work at the foul line. He also pointed out that only Barton has outrebounded his Braves this season — and accomplished the feat in both games (Pembroke won first meeting, 94-88).
“A really good Barton team beat us,” Miller declared. “Barton is one of the best teams in the region and they have one of the best coaches in the region. Our guys don’t really like it that we schedule Barton, but this is good for us going into (Division II Peach Belt) conference play.”
Strother wound up with 22 points for Pembroke, which also had five scorers in double figures. Brandon Watts dropped in 16 points, Akia Pruitt 15 and Nigel Grant and Micah Kinsey 10 each.
Scoring droughts marked the first half. The score stayed at 18-14 in Pembroke’s favor for over three minutes.
The Braves thrived inside in tearing from the 4-4 tie to leads of 10-4 and 16-8. Barton crept as close as 20-18 and 29-28 on a 3-pointer from Grant. But a 7-2 spree sent Pembroke to a 36-30 halftime cushion.
A pair of 3-pointers gunned Pembroke to a 42-33 advazntage before Grant and company stormed back. The Bulldogs finally tied the score at 58-58 with 10:29 left on Chris Cook’s bucket.
“We thought the first half was the poorest we have played all season,” Lievense declared. “All we asked them to do in the second half was do what we do every day — defend and rebound.
“Hats off to our guys.