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The start of the new year for the Barton College men’s basketball team brought a winning result — and decisively so — in the form of a 123-91 NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas conquest against Lees-McRae College in Wilson Gymnasium on Wednesday evening.
All 17 uniformed Bulldogs saw considerable playing time and 14 of them scored as the season-high output lifted head coach Ron Lievense’s squad to 3-2 in the conference and 10-5 overall. The Bobcats dropped to 2-3 and 5-9, respectively.
Barton posted a 53-35 halftime margin and then turned in a scorching second-half performance. The Bulldogs drained 65.8 percent of their shots from the floor and shot a blistering 63.6 percent (7 of 11) from 3-point range. The Bulldogs, for the game, were accurate on 44 of 78 shots from the floor for 56.4 percent, 13 of 23 from 3-point range for 56.5 percent and 22 of 28 from the foul line.
“We bounced back,” commented head coach Ron Lievense, whose Bulldogs were coming off a loss at Virginia State on Monday. “Lees-McRae didn’t have a great night, but they’re a really good team. Their length really gives us a lot of problems and we weren’t sure how we were going to handle their pressure.
“Our No. 1 key was handling the basketball and I am really proud of us having only 10 turnovers. We had a concerted effort on pass-faking.”
Barton wasted little time having its will against a Bobcats defense that exhibited suspect intensity.
Blake Burdack, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, and 6-3 sophomore Jake Kakar ignited the Bulldogs to a 9-0 sart. Barton outscored the Bobcats 14-2 in the first four minutes.
The Bulldogs opened with a lineup of Burdack, Kakar, 6-2 senior Matt Woods, junior Michael Boykin and 6-5 sophomore Isaiah Reddish. In less than five minutes, Barton worked with a nine-player rotation that included 6-5 senior Bobby Stenborg, 6-6 junior Isaiah Buck Lowman, junior Jeff Gordon and senior Zach Grant.
“We feel like we have eight starters,” Lievense explained, “but we started the guys that have been producing the most for us.”
Added Kakar: “It can be anybody’s night. It’s great to get back on the winning side. Some of the guys have been battling injuries throughout the year and that’s always tough. Everybody’s excited to see guys do well.”
Kakar referred to Buck-Lowman stepping up with a season-high 10 points; Stenborg shaking a slump with 15 points and four rebounds; and the sharp-shooting Boykin breaking out with 17 points.
“It was great to see Buck playing again,” Lievense remarked “He’s back. “Bobby has had a tough stretch. Michael is an extremely talented player and it was good to see him back.”
But if was anybody’s night, it was Kakar’s. He drained 7-of-10 shots from long distance en route to a game-high 25 points. He wound up hitting 9-of-14 shots total and handed out four assists.
“It was one of those nights,” Kakar said with a smile. “I did kind of have the feeling I couldn’t miss. I got a lot of good looks.”
Reddish tossed in 14 points, and Grant and Gordon 10 each. Reddish claimed eight rebounds and Burdack and Gordon seven each.
Barton’s torrid second half tipped off with a 15-10 advantage the first four minutes and Kakar bombed in his team’s first eight points. The Bulldogs reached the century mark in scoring at 100-61 on Stenborg’s bucket with 8:36 still left. Lievense stayed with the nine-player rotation until the final 6:13, and the reserves netted 13 points.
“It was fun; we were having a big run,” Kakar described the second half. “We kept the energy up. Coach talked about it being 0-0 this half of the year and that’s our mindset.”
Lees-McRae leaders were 6-8 freshman Andrew Gardner and sophomore Quay Kimble with 14 points and 6-8 freshman Kerry Richardson with 10.
“This was a great win for our guys,” Lievense declared. “I also saw a smile on their faces — which I hadn’t seen in a while. They were having fun. It’s a been a tough patch for us.”
“We’ve been to the mountain top; we were one of the best teams in the country for a good while. We’ve been in the valley. Now we’re trying to walk back to the mountain top one step at a time. This was the first step.”