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Dinah Neal, a 5-foot-7 senior guard, simply wasn’t going to allow the Barton College women’s basketball team to lose Saturday afternoon in Wilson Gymnasium.
Neal knocked down 10 of the Lady Bulldogs’ last 12 points to send 30th-year coach Wendee Saintsing’s club to a 71-69 squeaker against Limestone (South Carolina) College in a showdown for third place in NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas.
Neal, accurate on 7-of-8 free throws, swished a pair after being fouled with 2.6 seconds remaining to snap a 69-69 tie. Barton escaped when a shot by 5-9 Limestone junior Schekinah Bimpa just before the buzzer rolled aroound, then off the rim.
“I had to do whatever I had to do to get the team a win,” Neal said of her heroics. “I just had to execute on the free throws. Once I made the first one, I knew I was going to be good on the second one.”
Saintsing explained Neal experienced a little slump during the game and Saintsing felt she needed to speak words of encouragement to her.
“She came back out and did what she needed to do to get us over that hump,” Saintsing continued.
With the score knotted 69-69. Saintsing requested a time-out with 12.4 seconds remaining. Neal learned she would be the go-to option.
“The guards were circling around and Dinah was the last one to come out,” Saintsing explained. “We didn’t do it great, but Dinah came out and got the shot.”
And drew the game-deciding foul.
“Barton has plenty of guys to go to,” Lady Saints head coach Corey Fox said of defending the last play. “I thought we did a really good job. We thought it should have been a jump ball, but we didn’t get the call.”
Said Neal: “I’m glad my coach had enough faith in me to make that type of play. It was a team effort; we were all in our spots.”
Behind Neal’s 19 points, Barton climbed to 10-4 in the conference and 17-4 overall. Limestone departed 9-5 and 12-9, respectively.
Neal was complemented by 6-foot-2 sophomore Shanika Peterkin with a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds to go along with six blocked shots. Foul-plagued Kianna Wynn, a 6-foot senior, added 13 points and seven rebounds.
“I know she was bothered by foul trouble, but we did as good a job on Wynn as we could do,” Fox declared. “She’s a great player.”
The outside-strong Lady Saints got 21 points and 14 rebounds from Bimpa, 16 points from freshman Quin Byrd and 10 each from senior Taylour Hunter and redshirt freshman Reagan McCray.
After posting a 29-18 margin in the first half, the Lady Bulldogs wound up with a 49-43 rebounding edge. Limestone outpointed Barton 30-12 from 3-point range, and both teams shot for under 40-percent accuracy from the floor.
Neal came to Barton’s rescue after sterling performances from reserves in the second and third quarter.
With Wynn and Neal each benched with two fouls, Barton responded with a 14-0 tear in the final 6 minutes, 32 seconds of the second quarter behind Peterkin, senior Carmen Richardson and 5-11 freshman Jami Tham. Freshmen Akira Wiggins and Alexa Roberson each contributed a timely 3-pointer. The result was a 41-31 Barton lead at intermission.
But with Wynn again on the bench in the third quarter, Barton lost the lead at 54-53 when Limestone freshman Alaan West drained a 3-point shot.
However, the Lady Bulldogs salvaged a 55-55 tie after three quarters when freshman Laurytn Cross scored at the buzzer and erased a 60-57 deficit in the final quarter.
“(Players off the bench) did a great job in the second quarter,” Saintsing assured. “They got us a 10-point lead. I’m proud of them. We picked up the pace and were pretty much able to score at will. Kianna had some tough luck. Luckily, her teammates picked her up; they did a very good job. Shanika is doing a better job of scoring; it’s all about her having confidence in what she’s doing.”
Added Neal of reserves’ play in the second and third quarters: “We were excited. It was like ... ‘good job; way to hold them off.’ Everybody knew what they had to do. We needed this win.”
Limestone’s Fox could not have been more pleased with the final shot.
“We got the ball to who we wanted to,” he explained. “It just didn’t go down. I thought we did a great job in the second half. We battled and followed the game plan. But Barton is a great team and you’ve got to play well for 40 minutes against them.
“It was a good college game but, unfortunately, they scored the last bucket. Otherwise, we would be pretty happy right now.”