Barton fails to hold lead at Lees-McRae after comeback from 14-point halftime deficit

Archived photo of Barton College senior Tyler Thayer, who scored a career-high 18 points in Barton's 91-86 loss at Lees-McRae College on Saturday. | Photo by Keith Tew
Archived photo of Barton College senior Tyler Thayer, who scored a career-high 18 points in Barton's 91-86 loss at Lees-McRae College on Saturday. | Photo by Keith Tew

by Benny Benton

BANNER ELK, N.C. – Barton College erased a 14-point halftime deficit and took a five-point lead with 5:36 to play, but Lees-McRae College fought back to claim a 91-86 Conference Carolinas men's basketball victory on Saturday at Williams Gymnasium.

The Bulldogs (16-8, 11-5) maintained third place in the league despite the setback, but fell three full games behind league leader Limestone College with four games left in the regular-season. Lees-McRae improved to 8-16 overall and 7-9 in conference play.

Freshman Isaiah Buck-Lowman recorded a team-high 20 points in the loss for BC. Senior Daniel Westbrook scored 19 points and added 14 rebounds, matching a career-high he set on Tuesday, and Tyler Thayer posted a career-high 18 points on six 3-pointers. Jordan Turner matched Thayer with six 3-pointers for LMC in a game-high 24-point afternoon.

Barton trailed 52-38 at intermission after shooting just 40 percent from the field in the first half while allowing 57 percent to the Bobcats, including 53 percent on nine made 3-pointers. The Bulldogs still trailed by eight at 59-51 when a 3-pointer by Thayer started a 7-2 run that pulled BC back within three.

The Bulldogs tied the contest at 65-all on another 3-pointer by Thayer, and took the lead for the first time since the opening period, 68-67, on the Wilmington, N.C., resident's fourth and final 3-pointer of the second half.

With the game tied at 72-all, Barton used a 3-pointer by Buck-Lowman and a pair of free throws by Westbrook to match its largest lead of the game, five points, at 77-72 with 5:36 remaining.

However, the Bulldogs missed their next four shots and lost another possession on a turnover, opening the door for the Lees-McRae rally. The Bobcats regained the lead on a layup by Avery Wallis with 3:29 left, and moved in front by three on a layup by Turner 25 seconds later.

The two sides traded a pair of baskets before Barton moved in front for the final time on a layup by Westbrook with 1:17 to play. Turner responded with a key 3-pointer that put LMC back in front 85-83 with 1:06 to go, and BC freshman Michael Boykin missed a 3-pointer on the other end with 37 seconds remaining.

Chad Hicks made two free throws for Lees-McRae to make it a two-possession game at 87-83, and Jonathan Honore blocked a layup attempt by Barton sophomore Matt Woods on BC's next trip down the court. From there, the Bobcats went 4-for-4 from the line to seal the upset win.

Barton will play its next three games at home, beginning with a matchup against rival University of Mount Olive on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.