by Kevin Buczek
WILSON, N.C.-Forward Keith Manley scored a career-high 20 points and point guard Gerald Boston was clutch from the free throw line on their Senior Night to lead the Barton College men's basketball team to a 78-70 Conference Carolinas men's basketball victory over archrival Mount Olive College on Friday night in a packed Wilson Gymnasium.
The Bulldogs – ranked third in the current NCAA Division II Southeast Region Poll – never trailed en route to an eight straight win at home. Barton concluded regular season play with a 20-6 overall record and earned Conference Carolinas Regular Season Co-Champion honors with a league ledger of 15-5. BC shares the regular season title with Limestone College but because the Bulldogs swept the Saints, Barton will be the top seed in the Conference Carolinas Tournament. The defending tourney champs will host eighth-seeded Coker College in the quarterfinals on Monday at 7 p.m. in the Dog Douse where Barton is 12-1 on the season.
Veteran head coach Ron Lievense, who has now produced six 20-win seasons at Barton, honored his senior class of five before tipoff including Manley, Boston, forward Jon Hart, guard Jarrett Jernigan and guard Aaron Brown.
Barton led by 11 at halftime and then extended its advantage to 19 points seven minutes into the second half before Mount Olive made a 24-6 run to pull within one point heading into the final four minutes. The Bulldogs barked back in front of a loud home crowd of over 2,000 fans with several clutch shots and nine consecutive made free throws by Boston down the stretch to close out the win
The Trojans used a relentless full court press to rally as Barton committed 13 of its 22 turnovers in the second half. A tip-in by Barton freshman Chris Flemmings had the Bulldogs up 17, 55-38, with 10:46 to go before Barton was held without a field goal for the next eight-plus minutes. MOC went on an ensuing 20-4 run that was capped by a sophomore Jordan McCain steal and layup to close the gap to just one point at 59-58. All four BC points during that stretch came by Boston at the free throw line. Boston then swished four more freebees after the McCain fast break lay-in, to keep the Bulldogs out in front 63-58.
Senior Mahamed Ibrahim splashed a three-pointer to inch the Trojans within one possession again before a Manley layup on a quick rebound and pass by junior Brian McNair ended Barton's drought from the field at the 2:35 mark.
Mount Olive missed its first 12 tries from three-point distance but then made four straight treys to aid the Trojans unlikely comeback. A 3-pointer by senior Caleb Henderson got the visitors to within one point a second time at 65-54 before Boston shifted the momentum back in favor of the Bulldogs. Boston made a wild 10-foot shot as he was fouled and falling to the floor to erupt the boisterous audience. Boston then completed the three-point play from the charity stripe. Just moments later, Brown made a steal and McNair finished off a fast break layup that extended BC's lead to 70-64.
The Trojans did not go easily and an Ibrahim 3-pointer narrowed the score to 70-68 heading into the final minute. Boston made two more free throws but a senior Deshaune Green hoop kept the total to one possession at 72-20 until Hart put the dagger into the Trojans with an ensuing dunk off an assist by McNair. Brown then came up with a big steal to give Barton the ball and MOC was forced to foul. Boston made his 14th and 15th free throws before Manley made two of his own pair of free throws to extend the final margin of victory to eight points.
Boston totaled a game-high 25 points with 15-of-15 perfection from the charity stripe. Boston scored eight points in the first half to surpass Bulldog alumnus Tim Black for the NCAA DII era (1995-96 to present) scoring record at Barton. Coach Lievense recognized Boston on the incredible accomplishment at the intermission. Boston enters the 2013 postseason with 1,856 career points in a Royal Blue and White uniform (Black had 1,836 points in his four years at BC from 1999-2003).
Boston filled up the box score with game-highs of seven assists and five steals. Manley provided Barton with 10 points in each half to beat his previous scoring best output of 19 by one point. Hart also reached double figures with 10 points. Manley and Hart had eight and seven rebounds, respectively, as BC won rebounding battle, 45-41.
Jernigan scored the showdowns first basket with an offensive rebound and layup and Barton stayed in front from the onset. The Bulldogs only led by one, 15-14, before scoring eight consecutive points to increase the lead more than one possession for the final 10 minutes. A three-pointer by freshman Tristan Thomas canned a last minute 3-pointer to increase BC's lead to 36-25 at halftime.
Jernigan scored seven of his nine points in the first two minutes of the second half as the hosts lead continued to increase for the early part of the period.
Free throws proved all too important again as Barton converted on 20-of-22 for 90.9% precision. Mount Olive only made 10-of-21 attempts for an icy 47.6%. The Bulldogs shot 40% from the field but was held to a season-low 2-of-15 (13.3%) from three-point range. The Trojans fired 43.1% from the floor including 22.2% from downtown.
Mount Olive (14-12 Overall, 11-9 Conf.) is the seventh seed in the league tourney and will visit second-seeded Limestone in the quarterfinals on Monday. Kendall Hargrove led the Trojans with 15 points. Ibraham made 3-of-4 three-pointers en route to 14 points and Green flirted with a double-double with nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds.