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The Barton College women’s basketball team stormed at the outset and again to open the second half en route to a resounding 81-40 conquest of No. 7-seeded Erskine (South Carolina) College in the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas tournament semifinals Thursday evening in Wilson Gymnasium.
The 22nd victory against eight losses vaulted the Lady Bulldogs into the tournament championship game for the first time since 2011 — the last time they won the conference tournament. Barton will be playing a tourney championship game on its court for just the second time in 29 years when it opposes King University, a 72-71 winner over No. 8 seed North Greenville at 7 p.m. Friday.
Barton, at No. 3, is the highest remaining seed with losses by No. 1 Limestone (South Carolina) College and No. 2 Belmont Abbey in Monday’s quarterfinals.
“The opportunity was laid at our feet and we have to take advantage of it,” said veteran Barton head coach Wendee Saintsing. “You don’t get that kind of opportunity very often.”
Erskine, winner of four straight games — including Monday night’s upset of No. 2 Belmont Abbey — exited at 8-20 in the first season of head coach Shannon Reid.
Barton’s focus was upon avoiding the tendency of playing down to the competition — which junior Kianna Wynn felt was prevalent in Monday night’s victory against No. 6 Lees-McRae.
“I felt great about the way we played,” expressed Wynn, who demonstrated her second-team, all-conference form with a game-high 23 points and eight rebounds. “As a team, we were determined to get them and not play down to the level of competition. We know we are the better team, work through it, play hard, box out and play good defense.”
Little doubt existed about Barton’s superiority.
The Lady Bulldogs growled to a 13-2 start — when they swished 5 of 8 shots from the floor and the Lady Fleet canned but 1 of 12. Spearheaded by Wynn and senior Alex Kimble, Barton owned a 19-6 advantage after one quarter.
Senior Karimah Dean came off the bench to provide spark and the cushion expanded to 26-10. Paced by 5-foot-10 senior Ollie Steadman and 5-10 senior Christian Brown, Erskine chopped the deficit to 26-18 before Barton’s Wynn buried a putback. A bucket by sophomore Summer Baer off a steal staked the Lady Bulldogs to a 34-22 halftime margin.
Then came a 9-0 tear to open the second half that all put but the Fleet away. The flurry was capped by Kimble’s 3-pointer.
“Barton is extremely athletic and can defend at every position,” commented Erskine’s Reid. “We got a little momentum, but we came out the second half missing layups and free throws. You can’t afford to miss easy shots against a good team.
“Barton is talented offensively and they are so explosive. Their players get up in a hurry. They have a great shot-blocker (6-2 freshman Shanika Peterkin). She makes it so tough; she’s a rim protector. And when they get it going in transition, they’re hard to stop.”
Saintsing, despite the 12-point lead, was not pleased at halftime.
“It was a good team effort,” she acknowledged. “We started focused but we lost focus a little bit in the second quarter. We were pretty resilient. We wanted to jump on them in a hurry in the second half, and we did a good job of that.”
“Coach kept telling us the game is not over and to keep pushing, keep giving it to them and play our game,” Wynn explained.
Thus, Barton’s lead steadily escalated in the second half with the largest margin being the final score (41 points) on a pair of free throws from freshman Tayah Doss. Doss, Baer and 6-1 junior Alonna Terrell led an effective mop-up job from the reserves the last six minutes.
Kimble, a first-team, all-conference selection, drilled in 16 points, Dean 15 and senior Dinah Neal nine. Peterkin, proclaimed the league’s defensive player of the year, ruled inside with 17 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Brown led Erskine with team highs of eight points and 10 rebounds. Reid termed reaching the semis “a great step for our program.”
Saintsing noted the Lady Bulldogs dropped to No. 9 in this week’s Southeast Region poll and warns Barton will not only be playing for the tournament crown but a regional berth Friday night.
“It would be good if we win the tournament,” Saintsing said. “To be safe, we probably need to win it.”
Added Wynn: “We know it’s time to dig down and get after it.”