Bulldogs fall short vs. No. 18 VSU, 59-54

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The combination of not finishing defensive possessions and an ever-decreasing quality in shot selection finally caught up with Barton.

Facing No. 18-ranked Virginia State University at Wilson Gym on Tuesday night, the Bulldogs were without their second-leading scorer and leading rebounder in junior Bobby Stenborg due to illness as well as freshman Isaiah Reddish in a 59-54 loss.

Barton got a 3-pointer from sophomore Michael Boykin to tie the game at 54 with 2:20 to play.

However, the Bulldogs would not score again.

On the ensuing defensive possession, the Bulldogs allowed Virginia State to grab two offensive rebounds before Richard Granberry’s jump shot accounted for the winning basket with 46 seconds to go.

Freshman Jake Kakar had a 3-point attempt to tie with 10 seconds remaining, but it missed and VSU’s Walter Williams dunked the ball for the final margin.

The Bulldogs of Conference Carolinas, in getting outrebounded for the second straight game, fell to 7-6 in their final nonconference game of the year. VSU of the CIAA improved to 11-1.

“We had a number of looks that were very poor down the stretch,” Barton head coach Ron Lievense said. “I thought our shot selection on a number of plays was — I don’t know if it was hurried — but it was not very good. We didn’t drive the ball like we could have. We settled for jump shots instead of driving the ball to the basket.”

Virginia State, which entered play fourth in NCAA Division II in field-goal percentage defense at 37.9 percent, helped its average against the Bulldogs. Barton converted just 17 of 52 shots for 32.7 percent accuracy and turned the ball over 19 times. In being outrebounded 45-41, the Bulldogs were egregiously handled on the offensive backboards, giving up 16 to VSU.

“There were a couple of big rebounds down the stretch that our guys were in the area and we didn’t come up with the ball,” Lievense said. “They did, and that hurt because those were some big second effort shots the last two minutes of the game.”

With 1:27 to go in a tie game, sophomore Isaiah Buck-Lowman’s layup was blocked out of bounds by Granberry, leaving three seconds on the shot clock.

Junior Matt Woods inbounded to Buck-Lowman from the baseline, but the look was far from clean and rimmed off. Lievense was left to lightly toss his clipboard to the Wilson Gym floor.

“Tonight, I think we left a lot out on the court,” Buck-Lowman said. “We just didn’t play up to our usual standard, and if we did, it would have been a different turnout.”

Barton still had a chance to tie or take the lead when inbounding the ball with 33.5 seconds to go and 13 seconds on the shot clock. Buck-Lowman had another tough jumper than rimmed out, and VSU’s Philip Owens made 1 of 2 free throws prior to Kakar’s last-gasp chance for Barton.

Barton took a two-point lead into halftime at 26-24 after holding the Trojans to just 27.8 percent (10 of 36) in that span. VSU, which shot just 4 of 23 from beyond the arc, struggled from the outside throughout, allowing Barton to spread the floor early and get looks in the paint.

The Bulldogs’ biggest lead was 12-6 on consecutive 3-pointers by Kakar and freshman Blake Burdack, but Barton was unable to extend the lead further. Trailing 24-18 after a pair of second-chance VSU putbacks, the Bulldogs closed the first half on an 8-0 run, using two Burdack free throws, a Buck-Lowman runner, Burdack’s layup and two Buck-Lowman free throws.

Buck-Lowman paced Barton with 16 points and six rebounds, including an 8-for-11 showing from the line.

Barton led by as many as five in the second half at 32-27 on Buck-Lowman’s layup from Woods with 18:16 remaining, but a 7-0 VSU push turned the game into the back-and-fourth affair it would be until the final two minutes.

“That’s the thing we’ve kind of been on them about,” Virginia State head coach Lonnie Blow Jr. said about his team’s defensive consistency. “When we want to, we can clamp down. But then, we go stretches during the game where we’re not focused and alert on the defensive end. We seemed to clamp down when we have to, but we’ve got to do better than that.”

Grayberry’s double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds led Virginia State.

Barton, in a three-way tie for the Conference Carolinas lead with Mount Olive and King at 3-0, hosts Lees-McRae on Friday and King on Saturday.