Barton earns tournament title
WILSON, N.C. -- Junior guard Jannetta Robinson scored a career-high 25 points Sunday afternoon in Wilson Gymnasium to lead top-seeded Barton College to its first Conference Carolinas Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship 83-68 against second-seeded Mount Olive.
The Lady Bulldogs of 22nd-year head coach Wendee Saintsing claimed their first tournament title since winning the NAIA Carolinas Conference crown in the 1990-91 season. Barton, ranked sixth in the Southeast Region, also achieved a program record for wins at 25-4 and earned an automatic berth into the NCAA Southeast Regional. Barton, which swept three games from Mount Olive this season, won the Conference Carolinas regular-season title with an 18-2 mark.
“We got a load off our backs,” Saintsing said. “It took 20 years to get back (and win a conference championship), so it feels awesome!”
Mount Olive finished the season at 21-8.
The All-Tournament team included freshman guard Nyeshea Willie (MVP), senior guard Jamila Johnson and senior center Kelsey Sill of Barton; sophomore guard Andrea Jones and senior guard Shequanta McGee of Mount Olive; Limestone’s Maria Young; and Marissa Hudley of Queens University of Charlotte.
The Trojans jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the early going, but Barton tallied eight consecutive points for a 12-10 edge. The run included a foul shot by Robinson, three-point play by Johnson, a follow shot from Sill and a layup from sophomore forward Jolanda Mitchell.
Willie, the league’s Freshman of the Year, picked up her second foul at 15:05, and Johnson, a first-team pick, went out with two fouls at 13:02. That’s when Robinson, sophomore guard Faith Hunter, sophomore guard Jennifer Skepple, sophomore forward Shante Neal, senior forward Shawnta Shelton, Mitchell and Sill took control of the game’s pace.
The score was tied at 16, 20 and 22 before a Neal jumper and layups from Robinson and Skepple put Barton in front for good at 30-22 with 5:36 left in the first half. Mount Olive’s next basket was the first points for Conference Carolinas Player of the Year Jasmine Whitby at the 5:20 mark.
A pair of turnaround jumpers from Sill and a step-back 3-pointer from Shelton helped Barton to a 46-32 halftime lead. At intermission, the Trojans were shooting just 27 percent from the floor (10-of-37) while Barton sizzled the nets for 51.5-percent accuracy (17-of-33). Robinson had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting before the break; Sill scored eight and pulled seven boards; and Mitchell was tough down low with six points and six rebounds.
“They (Nyeshea and Jamila) carried us all season, so when they went out, there was just no letting up,” Robinson said. “We had play like (our tanks) were full of gas. We had to go! We were doing it for the seniors. We were going for the championship, and that was all I was thinking about. Being [a] leader, although I am not a senior, I knew I had to put out my all and pick up the slack.”
Robinson pushed the Barton lead to 48-32 to start the second half, but Mount Olive responded with a 12-2 run behind the inspired play of sophomore forward Alyssa Luebs. A three-point play from Luebs cut Barton’s lead to 54-49 with 11:07 left, but the Lady Bulldogs countered with a 5-0 spurt on three points from Johnson and a layup from Willie.
Barton appeared to be in command when Willie banked in a runner and hit the ensuing foul shot for a 66-56 cushion at 5:51, but Jones drilled a trey, senior point guard Laporsha Davis hit a jumper and McGee tallied three points, pulling Mount Olive close at 68-64 with 3:13 left. Barton turned the ball over on four of five possessions during the next minute and Whitby canned a layup, making it 70-66. That’s when Robinson came up with the play of the game. She drove down the right side of the lane and was knocked backward, but tossed the ball into the goal and converted a three-point play with 1:30 showing.
The decisive 13-4 run to end the game included 6-for-6 foul shooting by Robinson and 4-of-4 shooting by Willie. Then, the celebration was on. The Lady Bulldogs accepted their regular-season and tournament championship trophies and cut down the nets as a jubilant crowd cheered them on.
“I think our bench did an awesome job (when Johnson and Willie went out in the first half with two fouls apiece) to help us win,” an overjoyed Saintsing said. “I didn’t expect a runaway game. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, we struggled and got tentative. In the last 10 minutes, Jannetta really stepped up. She hit a big shot and then went to the basket with no fear. We kept the lead, and even when they got within four points, we were able to extend the lead, which was crucial.”
The Lady Bulldogs went to the NCAA Tournament in 2004, 2006 and 2007 and got their lone NCAA DII Tournament win in 2004 when they defeated Pitt-Johnstown 83-71.
“We’re going to the NCAA Tournament again and we’re going to do the best we can,” Saintsing said. “We are in a very good region, so we are just going to have fun and give it our best shot.”
Robinson finished 8-of-17 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the charity stripe. She also had four assists and two steals. Willie tallied 15 points and Mitchell (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Sill (10 points, 10 boards) recorded double-doubles. Barton was 28-of-63 from the floor for 44.4 percent and hit a sensational 26-of-29 free throws for 89.7 percent.
Mount Olive was 25-of-79 for 31.6 percent and hit 13-of-16 foul shots for 81.3 percent. Barton claimed a 49-44 rebounding advantage, but MOC hit the glass hard for 21 offensive rebounds.
Five players scored in double-figures for the Trojans. Jones led the way with 14, followed by Brittany Miller, McGee and Luebs with 11 apiece and Davis with 10. Leubs also corralled a game-high 14 rebounds for a double-double.
“Going to [the] NCAA Tournament feels good,” Robinson said. “This is the first time for a lot of us, so we’re just going to go play hard and play our best. We’re excited!”