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As if a 500th career victory wasn’t enough, Wendee Saintsing has all the reason to remember this one for a long, long time.
After the Barton College women’s basketball team earned the right to host the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas semifinals and finals, Saintsing’s No. 3 seed Lady Bulldogs made certain not to squander the precious opportunity Friday night.
Facing the No. 4 seed in King University, the Lady Bulldogs held the Tornado to 22-percent shooting in the second quarter to take a nine-point halftime lead before a strong start to the second half decked the visitors and assured Barton of its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2013 with a resounding 83-68 victory.
In granting Saintsing her 500th win against 311 losses in 29 seasons patrolling the sidelines of Wilson Gym, Barton (23-8) will now wait for its Southeast Regional assignment, which will be unveiled Sunday at 10 p.m.
Saintsing became the 12th active Division II head coach to reach 500 victories and the 30th in Div. II history. Barton, which was 3-5 and 0-2 in conference play at the beginning of December, won its second Conference Carolinas tournament title in school history, joining the 2010-11 team, which also clinched the crown in Wilson Gym.
King, the defending tournament champion, had its season ended at 17-13.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Saintsing said. “You can’t put it into words. It couldn’t happen a better way, and the kids played so great. I didn’t want to bring any 500 wins into this game, because it’s not really about my 500 wins. It’s about winning a championship. I’ve been blessed to have a lot of good kids over 500 wins.”
No. 500 came, in part, due to taking away a pair of King strengths and winning the battle in transition. King sophomore Kori West, who entered as the team’s leading scorer at 12.9 points per game, was held without a field goal and just one point at the foul line. The Tornado, the second-ranked defensive rebounding team in the country, were beaten on the backboards by the Lady Bulldogs, 51-44 and made 28 of 74 field goals for 37.8 percent accuracy. Barton connected on 29 of 73 shots for a 39.7-percent showing.
Junior forward Kianna Wynn, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, secured her second double-double of the tournament with 24 points and 14 rebounds. Dinah Neal, a junior guard, came within two points of her career high with 25 points and six rebounds. Neal epitomized Barton’s aggressiveness in getting into the paint, making 9 of 12 free throws. The Lady Bulldogs outdistanced King from the foul line as Barton connected on 19 of 22 free throws. Conversely, King struggled, making just five of 16. Off the bench, senior Karimah Dean matched Wynn’s game-high 14 rebounds and came within two points of a double-double.
The Lady Bulldogs scored 61 of their 83 points either in the paint or at the foul line.
“That’s my job on the team,” Neal said of dribble penetration. “Coach Danny (assistant coach Colvin) tells me every day that I’m very aggressive, get to the basket and no one can guard me. That’s just what I need to do to help my team out to win.”
The Lady Bulldogs witnessed King remain with them stride for stride in the early going, as the Tornado led 27-26 on a Kristen Cupples 3-point shot in the second quarter. But Neal replied with three consecutive layups, tied up West on a jump ball and made two free throws with 39 seconds left in the half to give the Lady Bulldogs a 42-33 cushion at the half.
Giving Barton a second-quarter boost was redshirt junior Alonna Terrell, who logged key minutes after Wynn and freshman shot blocker Shanika Peterkin were sent to the bench with two fouls. Terrell and Neal had consecutive second-chance baskets in helping Barton gain its halftime lead.
“I think we’ve outrebounded most teams as of late,” King head coach Josh Thompson said. “But that was one of our main keys coming into the game because Barton has got some great offensive rebounders with Wynn, Peterkin and number 20 (Dean). But they just hit the glass hard. They’re long and athletic. We knew we’d have to keep them off the glass.”
Barton quickly seized control to start the third quarter. Redshirt senior Alex Kimble, who finished with 14 points, had a pair of 3-pointers as part of an 18-5 run to open the second half. In fact, it was Terrell who made a hook over West to send the Lady Bulldogs to a 60-38 lead.
The biggest lead for Barton was 23 points on senior Tatyana Jackson’s 3-pointer with 4:40 remaining.
Arnelle Collins led King with 22 points, while Taylor Freeman added 13.
“This is what we’ve always been pushing for and striving for, and we’ve finally done it,” Wynn said. “We actually came together and put four quarters together and played as one team.”
Barton, which found itself looking in after the latest release of the official Division II Southeast Region rankings, will no longer have to sweat out Selection Sunday.
“No more worrying about getting in the regional tournament,” Saintsing said. “We’re in! We’ve just got to see our seed and go from there.”