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Barton convincingly weathered the storm Saturday night.
With temperatures well below freezing and snow and ice dotting the landscape outside Wilson Gymnasium, a Tornado was furiously swirling inside.
However, the Bulldogs found a way to restore calm.
Trailing by 16 points with nine and a half minutes remaining, Barton stormed (pardon the expression) to a scintillating 92-90 NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas triumph against the King University Tornado.
Veteran Barton head coach Ron Lievense described the comeback as “unbelievable” and declared: “This is a special win. King is a great team and they’re going to be there all year.”
The Bulldogs remained deadlocked with archrival Mount Olive for the conference lead at 5-0 and improved to 9-6 overall. The Tornado, defeated at Mount Olive on Friday, spun to 4-2 and 9-7, respectively. Mount Olive kept pace with Barton with an 88-79 conquest of Lees-McRae on Saturday. Barton and Mount Olive tangle in Wilson Gym on Wednesday night.
King built its lead to 77-61 with 9:28 remaining on a basket from junior guard Jordan Floyd, who staged a blistering shooting exhibition from 3-point range (7 of 14) in firing in a career-high 35 points. With five minutes showing, Barton still trailed by 11 points.
However, 6-foot-5 junior Bobby Stenborg ignited the Bulldogs with 16 of his career-high 28 points in the final 10 minutes. But the Garner product declined to take credit for spearheading the comeback.
“I was just playing as hard as I could to help the team any way I could to win the game,” he said. “Coach told us (during a timeout) that we needed to outscore them by 18 points in the last 10 minutes. We just kept battling. We ended up getting some stops finally and we kept scoring — they couldn’t stop us.”
The Tornado found its 3-point assault more sternly contested and suffered an agonizing toll when it tried to work inside.
Barton axed the 16-point deficit to six before redshirt-sophomore King guard Timothy Taylor pushed the margin back to 10 points with four free throws.
Trailing 83-73, Barton responded with a 10-0 tear. A three-point play and two-point field goal in succession from Stenborg produced an 83-83 tie with 3:12 remaining. Junior Matt Woods’ 3-pointer gunned the Bulldogs to an 86-85 edge. Three lead changes occurred before 6-5 f reshman Isaiah Reddish swished a 3-point shot to put Barton in front for keeps at 91-89 with 59.1 seconds remaining.
“We were moving the ball from side to side and (Reddish) got a good look,” Stenborg explained. “He nailed it. When we have an open man, it doesn’t matter who it is.”
Floyd missed on a pair of 3-point shots before Stenborg’s free throw with 3.9 seconds to go staked Barton to a 92-89 margin.
The Tornado got the ball inbounds and Lievense instructed a nonshooting foul, which put King in a one-and-one situation at the foul line.
King junior De’Don Young canned the first free throw, but deliberately missed the second. Stenborg retrieved the basketball as the buzzer sounded.
“Everybody had to crash as hard as they could,” said Stenborg, “and make sure they didn’t get the ball, tip it out, something crazy happens and they win the game.”
“It was gutsy,” Lievense admitted, “but we didn’t want to give them a chance to tie us with a 3. Two other times (in previous games), we didn’t foul them and they tied us with a 3. It could have backfired but, fortunately for us, it worked out well.”
Of Barton’s decision, King head coach George Pitts responded: “I’m glad they did. It gave us a better chance in what we wanted to do. We still needed a dribble and a pass — and we might not have gotten a shot off. I don’t have a problem with the shots we got.”
Stenborg was complemented by sophomore Michael Boykin with 19 points, Reddish with a career-high 12, Woods with 11 and 6-6 sophomore Isaiah Buck-Lowman with 11 rebounds.
For the Tornado, Taylor bucketed 18 points and Young 10. Mack Owens, a 6-6 redshirt-senior, grabbed 13 rebounds.
The Tornado opened with an 8-0 spree and built a 11-point cushion. The Bulldogs twice managed to lead by a point before trailing 42-40 at halftime.
King then threatened to bomb the Bulldogs out of the gym at the start of the second half. Floyd and 6-6 sophomore Mike Salomon knocked down six 3-point shots in the first six minutes. King went 9 of 15 from beyound the arc in the second half. But Floyd’s shots stopped dropping; he managed just two points the last eight minutes.
“That guy was killing us,” Lievense acknowledged. “We weren’t doing anything different. We just tried to put a chest in front of him and deny him the basketball — which is what we wanted to do from the start.”
Defeat stung for the Tornado.
“They just outplayed us the last 3-4 minutes,” Pitts remarked. “You have to give them the credit. But it’s getting to be a thing with Barton. That’s three in a row that’s happened.”
BARTON 110, LEES-MCRAE 105
Players off the bench, led by 6-foot-8 freshman Blake Burdack, fired in 55 points to help Barton to a wild 110-105 victory against Lees-McRae in Wilson Gymnasium on Friday evening.
Burdack, from Melbourne, Australia, drilled in a career-high 22 points and matched his career high of nine rebounds. Junior Zach Grant added 10 points, freshman Jake Kakar seven, freshman David Campbell a career-high nine and Reddish seven.
Among the foul-plagued starters, sophomore Jeff Gordon tossed in 21 points and claimed seven rebounds. Stenborg contributed 14 points, six rebounds and six assists.
The fray featured 55 fouls, including 34 for the Bobcats, who had four players to foul out. Barton connected on a whopping 38 of 53 free throws as compared to 21 of 29 for Lees-McRae, which dropped to 2-3 in league games and 8-6 overall after Saturday’s 88-79 loss at Mount Olive. Both teams swished 10 attempts from 3-point range. Each shot for better than 50-percent accuracy from the floor; the Bobcats went 37 of 65 for 56.9-percent accuracy, while Barton was 31 of 58 for 53.4 percent.
Lievense’s Bulldogs never trailed the final 30 minutes, but had to answer repeated Lees-McRae spurts.
The Bobcats chopped a 91-80 deficit to 91-87, and the Bulldogs saw a 97-89 advantage with 2:19 remaining dwindle to 103-98 with 41 seconds still showing. Burdack added two free throws for Barton but a deep 3-pointer from senior Lepreece Lynch left the Bobcats down 105-101 with 29 seconds left.
Behind by five points and in possession of the basketball, the Bobcats missed a shot with 11 seconds to go and Gordon’s two free throws sealed the Barton win.
Lynch poured in 19 of his game-high 27 points in the second half. Junior Kamil Williams tossed in 22 points.