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JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — The Barton College women’s basketball teams prides itself upon hustle and fast play.
But the Lady Bulldogs, Conference Carolinas tournament champions, were haunted by five effective hustle plays from No. 3-seeded University of North Georgia in the closing moments of Friday afternoon’s first NCAA Division II Southeast Regional quarterfinal in regional host Carson-Newman University’s Holt Field House.
Those hustle plays cited by veteran Barton head coach Wendee Saintsing sent her Lady Bulldogs to an 81-76 defeat, negating a stirring fourth-quarter comeback.
Barton, attempting to advance for the third time in seven regional appearances and a qualifier for the first time since 2013, exited with a 23-9 record.
The Nighthawks, who defeated Barton 75-49 in an early-season meeting in Dahlonega, Georgia, vaulted to 28-4 and into the tournament semifinals against No. 2 Wingate University, an overtime winner in another Friday quarterfinal.
“They beat us on five straight hustle plays at the end of the game,” Saintsing lamented. “We had opportunities for sure; we were right in the game. We did some good things defensively, but we would turn around and give them second and third chances.”
The No. 6-seeded Lady Bulldogs trailed 66-55 entering the final quarter. With five minutes, 29 seconds remaining, Barton senior Tatyana Jackson drained a 3-point shot to cut the Nighthawks’ lead to 70-66. With its biggest run, Barton axed the deficit to 70-68 on 5-foot-10 senior Karimah Dean’s layup.
A pair of free throws from Vanessa Agrusa upped North Georgia’s edge to 72-68 with 4:54 left. The Lady Bulldogs then experienced a brief scoring drought and found themselves behind 76-68 with slightly over three minutes to go. Junior Dinah Neal put Barton on the scoreboard again.
A tip-in from 6-foot junior Kianna Wynn enabled Barton to draw as close as 79-76 with less than a minute remaining.
But the next possession crippled the Lady Bulldogs. Agrusa grabbed an offensive rebound and her second-chance field goal with 21 seconds remaining ended the Lady Bulldogs’ season.
“We didn’t play that well,” Saintsing assessed. “And they didn’t play that well. We played well at times, but we had defensive breakdowns and they got a lot of easy baskets and second-chance points.”
Dean, who did not play in the early-season encounter, dazzled for Barton with a game-high 26 points and eight rebounds. In her Lady Bulldogs farewell, Dean swished 10 of 14 shots from the floor and all six free throws.
“Karimah played well,” Saintsing commended. “She did exactly what we wanted her to do with the ball; she went hard to the basket. I couldn’t have asked for her to do much more.”
Senior Alex Kimble tossed in 18 points, while Neal netted 11 and Jackson 10. Shanika Peterkin, a 6-2 freshman, established a Barton postseason NCAA record with nine blocks and finished the season with 139 blocks (4.3 per game).
Agrusa and Julie McKie each scored 14 points for North Georgia, the first-time Peach Belt Conference tournament winner. Julianne Sutton added 12 points and Abbie Franklin 11. Agrusa added eight rebounds and seven assists. The Nighthawks dominated the rebounding, 42-28.
The Lady Bulldogs led the first six-plus minutes and carried a 23-20 edge into the second quarter. However, North Georgia surged into the lead for keeps with a 16-0 tear. The Nighthawks managed 18 rebounds and 19 second-chance points in the quarter.
“Both teams got into foul trouble in the second quarter, and their reserves did a good job of keeping them in the game,” Saintsing pointed out. “We were driving hard to the basket and getting them into foul trouble. But we stopped doing that.”
North Georgia boosted its margin to double digits on numerous occasions in the third quarter. Deana Blankinship beat the buzzer with a layup to provide the Nighthawks with a 66-55 advantage after three quarters.
Barton careers ended for Kimble, Jackson, Dean, Taura Jones and Jasmine Fate.
“It was a good year,” reviewed Saintsing, who ended the year with 500 career wins in 29 seasons. “I am proud of the kids and what they were able to accomplish. It takes a lot to win a championship, and we managed to do that. It has been wonderful to see how they have grown as players and people.
“I was really pleased with our effort this year.”
But North Georgia’s five hustle plays to end the quarterfinal gnawed at the Lady Bulldogs.