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The approach of an NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas men’s basketball coach, in the opinion of Barton head coach Ron Lievense, is: “You have to go out every single game and play the best you can to have a chance to win.”
Take, for example, Saturday afternoon’s Barton-Southern Wesleyan clash in Wilson Gymnasium.
Southern Wesleyan, in last place among 10 league teams, extended the Bulldogs deep into the second half before Barton closed out its regular-season home schedule with an 82-67 conference victory.
Barton escalated its performance level to maintain fourth place in the conference at 9-5 and improve to 13-11 against all foes. The Bulldogs face four league road tests to end the regular season.
The Warriors lost for the 12th time in 13 league outings and plunged to 2-20 against all foes.
“They came out, played really hard and gave us a battle,” 6-foot-4 Barton junior Bobby Stenborg said of Southern Wesleyan. “They made some tough shots and they’re big.”
However, Stenborg ignited a stirring Barton display the final 15 minutes, pouring in a game-high 26 points and snaring eight rebounds.
“We amped up the pressure,” Stenborg explained. “We turned them over a few times and got some quick baskets. We couldn’t make any outside shots (3 of 16 from 3-point range) but we got what we wanted inside and got to the free-throw line (19 of 28) — which was helpful.”
Added Lievense: “In the first half, we were not playing with much pressure or intensity. But I was really proud of the second half. In the first half, we settled for too many 3’s. We started driving the basketball. The defensive intensity was a lot better the second half and we played with more energy.”
With the score knotted 32-32, the Bulldogs seized the lead for keeps when Stenborg sank a free throw and freshman Jake Kakar completed a three-point play.
Up 38-34 at intermission, Barton built the cushion to 10 points for the first time at 53-33 on Stenborg’s inside move with 11 minutes, 24 seconds remaining. From there, the turnovers piled up for the Warriors and Barton feasted.
After being outrebounded the first half, Barton wound up with a 42-38 edge on the backboards and committed just 10 turnovers as compared to 19 for the Warriors.
Lievense hailed Stenborg.
“He’s a stud,” Lievense declared. “He plays with emotion and toughness every day. He works so hard and never quits playing. What you see from Bobby is what you’re going to get every day.”
Sophomore Michael Boykin chipped in with 14 points, while 6-8 freshman Blake Burdack stuffed in 11 and 6-6 sophomore Isaiah Buck-Lowman 10. Sophomore Jeff Gordon claimed nine rebounds and Buck-Lowman seven.
The Warriors were led by 6-5 junior Jeremy Wert with 24 points, 6-7 junior Justice McCullough with 13 points and 16 rebounds and freshman Jacob Smith with 11 points.