AIKEN, S.C.-- Third-seeded Wingate jumped out to a 15-point lead in the first half and held on for a 64-59 victory against the sixth-seeded Barton in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Region women’s basketball tournament Friday afternoon.

The Bulldogs improve to 23-7 overall, advancing to the regional semifinals for the first time since the 2008 season. Barton ends its season at 21-9 overall.

Sophomore guard Nikki Burton had 20 points and four rebounds to lead the Wingate attack, hitting nine-of-14 shots from the field. Senior forward Simone Rutledge had 10 points and eight rebounds, while sophomore forward Chantal Dunbar added 10 points and four rebounds. Junior guard Sarah Wollett had nine points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Bulldogs.

“We are really excited to get the win [Friday],” Wingate head coach Barbara Nelson says. “It is survive and advance …and we are happy to move on. Barton is a great team …very athletic. They forced turnovers and got us out of our game, but I am pleased with our ability to adjust and get the win.”

Senior guard Jannetta Robinson had 19 points and five rebounds to lead the Barton attack. Sophomore guard Nyeshea Willie (Virginia Beach, Va.) added 16 points and 10 boards for the BC Bulldogs.

Wingate hit its first four shots from the field, taking a 9-4 lead on a Wollett triple and a Tish Logan layup at the 17:25 mark. Barton trimmed the lead to one at 11-10 on Robinson’s lay-up with 13:58 to go. The WU Bulldogs scored the next six points, taking a 17-10 advantage on Burton’s layup. Barton got back to within three Robinson’s layup at the 11:58 mark.

Wingate used a 14-2 run during the next seven minutes to take a 15-point lead. Rutledge started the spurt with a layup, while Burton added four points in the run. A three-point play from Dunbar, followed by a three from Wollett, made the score 31-16 with 4:18 remaining. Barton scored six of the last eight points in the half, cutting the halftime deficit to 33-22. Wingate shot 43.3 percent in the opening half, while holding the BC Bulldogs to 25 percent shooting.

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Barton used a 10-0 run to cut Wingate’s lead to one with 10:39 remaining. Robinson started the flurry with two consecutive three-pointers, while junior guard Elaine Morgan capped the spurt to make the score 39-38. Back-to-back buckets from Burton pushed the Wingate lead back to five with 9:25 to go. The BC Bulldogs were able to trim the lead back to three on a pair of free throws from Faith Hunter at the 6:56 mark.

Wingate responded with a 5-0 run to push the advantage back to eight two minutes later. Dunbar started things with a three-point play, while two Burton free throws made the score 54-46. Barton would not go away, getting a triple and a jumper from Willie to cut the deficit back to three with 4:24 left.

A layup from BC junior forward Janae Jackson made it a one-point game with 1:45 remaining. Wollett came back down and found Burton under the basket for a layup to push the lead to three. After a Barton free throw, Wollett set up Rutledge for a lay-up to make the score 60-56 with 25 seconds remaining. The WU Bulldogs hit four free throws in the final 11 seconds to put the game away.

Wingate shot 46.9 percent from the field, hitting two-of-eight from three-point range (25 percent). The Bulldogs committed 30 turnovers on the afternoon, which Barton converted into 27 points. The WU Bulldogs outscored Barton 40-22 in the paint, while holding a 37-36 rebounding advantage. Barton shot 30.6 percent from the field, hitting four-of-17 shots from beyond the arc (23.5 percent). Barton committed 22 turnovers, which led to 14 Wingate points.

The Bulldogs have now won 10 consecutive games overall, after winning last week’s SAC tournament. Wingate is now 15-11 all-time in the NCAA tournament. The last time the Bulldogs won the opening round game of the NCAA tournament, they went on to win the regional title and advance to the Elite Eight in 2008.

The Bulldogs met Clayton State and Tusculum in the regular season, falling to the CSU Lakers and splitting the two meetings with the Pioneers. The Wingate players talked about the difference between this year and last year. “We knew we didn’t want a repeat of last year…and that really drove us to come out determined today,” Rutledge says.

“Last year, we came in with nothing to lose after being picked in the bottom of the league and we just came out having fun,” Wollett says. “This year, we were picked to win the league, then we did win it and now we feel the pressure. [This fact] has us more focused on the winning.”