by Benny Benton
BANNER ELK, N.C. – League title hopes for the Barton College men's basketball team were extinguished Saturday afternoon when the Bulldogs suffered a 110-95 loss to host and No. 2 seed Lees-McRae College in the semifinals of the Conference Carolinas Tournament.
The third-seeded Bulldogs (17-13) led by as many as seven points in the first period and kept pace with the high-octane Bobcats (22-8) until halftime, but could do little to slow LMC's 60-point outburst in the second half.
With the victory, Lees-McRae moves into Sunday's championship game, where it will face No. 8 seed Belmont Abbey College, which continued its Cinderella march through the tourney with a 63-56 win over No. 5 seed Limestone College in Saturday's other semifinal.
Turnovers were a key difference for the Bobcats. Lees-McRae collected 13 steals and forced Barton into 19 total turnovers that led to 23 points. The Bulldogs came up with just three steals and 10 total turnovers resulting in 10 points.
Junior Bobby Stenborg, who earlier in the day was named a first-team all-conference selection, paced the Bulldogs with 22 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field. Isaiah Buck-Lowman, BC's other representative on the all-conference squad, added 16 points and six rebounds. Michael Boykin also contributed 16 points, while Matt Woods and Zach Grant both chipped in 15. Blake Burdack collected a team-high eight rebounds and also tossed in nine points.
Lees-McRae had six players reach double-figures, led by 21 points from Jason Saintizaire. Quay Kimble and Jordan Turner each added 20 points in the victory, and Lepreece Lynch recorded 15 points and nine rebounds.
Trailing 28-25 with just over 11 minutes to go in the first half, Barton went on an 11-1 spurt to take its biggest lead of the day, 36-29, with 7:39 to go before the break. A layup by Jake Kakar, a 3-pointer by Woods and a layup by Burdack made up the first half of the run before Stenborg closed it with consecutive layups. Over the same span, the Bobcats missed six straight shots.
However, it didn't take Lees-McRae long to catch up. Saintizaire drilled two 3-pointers and added a pair of free throws following a Barton turnover to account for eight of the points in a 10-2 LMC run that put the Bobcats back in front, 39-38, with 5:18 left before intermission.
After LMC took a 50-47 lead to the break, Barton quickly tied the game at 50 on a three-point play by Buck-Lowman to open the second period. However, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on four of their next five possessions, and Lees-McRae went on a 9-0 run over the next two and a half minutes.
With Lees-McRae up 12 and just under 12 minutes remaining. Barton took advantage of two missed shots and two turnovers by the Bobcats to go on a 7-0 run that was comprised of two Stenborg baskets sandwiched around a Woods 3-pointer.
The Bobcats pushed their lead back to 10, and Barton chopped that margin in half once more at 83-78 following another 3-pointer by Woods with 6:42 left. However, Jordan responded with a 3-pointer on the other end for LMC, and the Bulldogs never presented a serious threat again.
Barton gave up 105 points or more to the Bobcats in all three 2017-18 meetings, although it won the contest in Wilson by scoring 110 of its own.
The Bulldogs earned the No. 3 seed for the tournament following a 12-6 league campaign achieved with no seniors on the roster.