The Barton College men’s basketball team overcame slow starts to both halves to win a tight, down-to-the-wire battle against NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas rival Mount Olive, 81-78, on Wednesday evening at Wilson Gym.
The Bulldogs remained unbeaten in Conference Carolinas play at 7-0 and climbed to 9-5 overall. Barton battled through a see-saw, back-and-forth affair in front of a raucous home crowd to come away with the rivalry win.
“We’re getting ready to go into the meat of our schedule against some incredible teams, and they’re one of them,” said Barton head coach Ron Lievense. “They’re really good. If they play like that, they’re going to be right in the hunt. … Anytime you get a Barton and Mount Olive contest, it always comes down to this. It is one of the hottest rivalries around that I’ve ever been in touch with. It was a great basketball game.”
Barton trailed by as much as eight points in the second half, but every time Mount Olive made a run, the Bulldogs had the answer.
“We never folded,” Lievense said. “We kept fighting, and things started to turn when they got the lead. We could have folded, and we didn’t. Our guys are getting tougher. They’re getting more mature as we go through, but it’s been a process for this team. It’s been a process of growth from the very beginning of the season.”
Mount Olive’s 3-point shooting (13 for 28 on the night) nearly allowed the Trojans (4-11, 2-5 CC) to pull off the upset, as did a spectacular game from senior guard Michael Brown, who pumped in a whopping 36 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks, while knocking down seven 3-pointers on the night.
“We had some missed free throws down the stretch,” said Mount Olive head coach Dory Hines. “That’s a battle, man. That’s one of the toughest battles in all of D-II basketball. We love it. It’s 45 minutes down the road, it’s just fun. All in all, hats off to Barton, they made the plays tonight.”
Trayvon Ferrell also posted 11 points for Mount Olive, and true freshman Aaron Murphy, who played two seasons at Greenfield School and transferred to Mount Olive from Div. I Queens University after the fall Semester. Murphy, playing his first collegiate game, recorded four points in 14:38 of playing time.
With Barton up 79-76 with 25 seconds left after Marcus Boykin split a pair of free-throw attempts, Mount Olive looked to set up for a game-tying 3-pointer, but Barton knocked the ball out of bounds with eight seconds left, forcing the Trojans to reset.
Reese McDonald tipped the Trojans’ attempt at a buzzer-beating, game-tying 3-pointer, forcing the shot to fall short and sealing the rivalry win for Barton.
“There were only eight seconds left, and I knew they wanted to get a 3 off to tie the game,” McDonald said. “There wouldn’t be enough time, if they got a quick layup, to get another possession. So I was trying to make a play and God be the glory, I made one.”
Boykin and Donaven Hairson led Barton with 21 points apiece, with Boykin also pulling down eight rebounds, tied for the team lead with McDonald, who also tallied 19 points.
That capped off a frenetic final five minutes of the game that featured numerous lead changes and clutch plays from either side.
With the game tied at 67 with seven minutes and change left to play, Brown drilled an off-balance corner 3 with one second left on the shot clock to put Mount Olive in front, but Barton answered again, and McDonald nailed a contested 3 with 5:51 left to put the Bulldogs up 74-72, a lead the team would, despite Mount Olive’s best efforts, not relinquish.
The game featured an energetic, lively crowd in Wilson Gymnasium, lending to the tense atmosphere in the final minutes.
“I want to say how thankful I am that the Wilson community came out to the game, because our students aren’t here,” Lievense said. “It was great that the Wilson community and Barton faculty and staff came to the game.”
Barton continued plenty of momentum into the second half, as McDonald splashed home a 3 on the first possession to put the Bulldogs up by 12, but it didn’t last long.
The Trojans had a response ready, tightening up their defense, ripping off a 12-2 run over the next 2:02 to strike to within two, prompting Lievense to call a timeout, and knocking down several 3-pointers to give the Trojans a their biggest lead at eight points with 13:55 left to play.
“Hats off to Mount Olive, I thought there were many times where they outcompeted us and were quicker to the ball than we were,” Lievense said.
Barton got the response it needed, however, with Boykin and Spencer coming up with back-to-back three-point plays to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to two in short order, keying a 12-2 to put Barton back in front in a game that featured nine lead changes.
“We’re deep,” McDonald said. “We’ve got a lot of talent on this team. We compete every day in practice against each other and make each other better. It showed just then.”
Barton overcame a slow start both offensively and defensively in the first half, finishing it on a 22-10 run after trailing 20-17 to take a 39-30 lead into the break. Trevon Spencer ignited the crowd at the first-half buzzer, throwing down a dunk right as time expired.
“That was probably the biggest crowd we’ve played in front of all year,” McDonald said. “I love it. It was a great atmosphere, great environment.”
Barton will look to maintain its conference lead with a visit from Belmont Abbey on Saturday, as the Crusaders enter the contest at 6-1.
“We’re getting ready to go into the heat of our schedule against some top-shelf teams, so we’re going to find out a lot about ourselves over the next 10 days,” Lievense said.
MOUNT OLIVE (78)
Brown 36, Ferell 11, Carter 9, Bridges 6, Radcliffe 5, Murphy 4, Roberts 3, Nelson 2, Johnson 2.
Boykin 21, Hairston 21, McDonald 19, Spencer 9, Shaw 4, Nelson 3 Anderson 2, Reams 2.
Halftime score: Barton 39, Mount Olive 30.