Bulldogs dazzle NGU in conference opener

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In a spectator’s delight, the Barton College men’s basketball team impressively tipped off NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas wars with a 97-56 demolishing of North Greenville (South Carolina) University on Saturday afternoon in Wilson Gymnasium.

Still ranked No. 14 among the nation’s Division II teams, Barton bounced back from its gut-wrenching overtime loss to Shaw University to record its seventh win against one loss. The Crusaders departed 0-2 in the league and 1-7 against all foes.

In reference to Tuesday’s loss at home, Barton’s 23rd-year head coach Ron Lievense remarked: “You are always concerned about how your team will handle adversity. There’s always the next game and the next play.

“I thought we did an amazing job of ball movement, and the unselfishness of this team is amazing. With the ball movement we displayed today, I would think that would be a tremendous treat to see.”

The Bulldogs dished out 23 assists and flustered the Crusaders with 16 steals. Barton committed just eight turnovers as compared to 22 for North Greenville. The Crusaders won the rebounding battle 37-28, but the Bulldogs drained 36 of 59 shots from the floor for 61-percent accuracy and sizzled from 3-point range at 12 for 22 for 54-percent accuracy. The Crusaders canned but 22 of 61 shots from the floor for 36 percent and were outscored 13-6 from the foul line.

“We met a lot of our goals,” Lievense declared. “The defense was really, really outstanding.”

Occurrences of lesser significance boosted Barton optimism.

Isaiah Buck-Lowman, a 6-foot-6 junior and returning all-conference performer, saw his first action of the season after being sidelined at the season’s start with a knee injury.

Jeff Gordon, a 6-3 junior and a key performer each of the previous two seasons, came off the bench to toss in 12 points. Gordon entered averaging 7 points per contest, but his production was down and playing time steadily diminishing.

“He’s coming along,” Lievense said of Gordon. “He’s had a little rough spot but he’ll be fine. We need him; he was a key to our program the last two years. We’ve got to have him hitting on all cylinders.”

Of his plight, Gordon reasoned: “We’re a deep team. I’m a human and, at some point, it has been discouraging. But I have tried to encourage my teammates as they have tried to encourage me.

“Today felt good.I tried to give energy and contribute any way I could in helping us get a really good win.”

Jake Kakar, a 6-3 sophomore who admits he’s never seen a 3-point shot he didn’t like, paced five Bulldogs in double-figures scoring with 20 points. Bobby Stenborg, a 6-5 senior, worked for 17 points. Senior guard Zach Grant fired in 15 points and electrifying 6-5 sophomore Isaiah Reddish supplied 10 points and nine rebounds.

Grant drained 5-of-6 shots from beyond the 3-point arc and Kakar buried 4 of 6. Matt Woods, a 6-2 senior, added eight points and six assists. Junior Michael Boykin notched six assists and six steals.

Not be overlooked, Shemar Hudson, a sophomore from Hunt High, netted four points.

Head coach Chad Lister tried to keep his Crusaders close, utilizing two called time-outs and a media stoppage in the first seven minutes.

But from a 5-5 tie, the Bulldogs thundered on a 15-2 tear. Barton led 27-10 and then 33-16 on Woods’ putback. Stenborg rebounded and scored for Barton’s largest first-half margin of 44-21 with 28 seconds showing.

The Crusaders, behind the inside play of 6-6 sophomore Kovi Tate and the 3-point bombing of sophomore Corey Walters drew no closer than 46-29. Barton responded with a 3-pointer each from 6-8 sophomore Blake Burdack and Grant. The Bulldogs’ biggest lead was 84-42 with still over six minutes left.

North Greenville was paced by a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds from Tate.

Gordon understands no guarantees were attached to his performance Saturday, but he had reason to smile.

“We’re so deep that any day could be somebody’s day,” he explained. “Playing here has been special and I haven’t taken it for granted. I love it. I love playing for Coach Lievense and Coach (Joel Zimmerman).

“Whatever coach wants me to do, I’m going to try to do it to the best of my ability.”