by Benny Benton
WILSON, N.C. – Barton College senior R.J. Claypool drained a contested, off-balance 3-pointer with one second left on the shot clock and 12.9 seconds left in the game, giving the Bulldogs the go-ahead point in an 85-83 victory over Lees-McRae College Tuesday night at Wilson Gym.
Freshman Michael Boykin produced a reach-around steal against LMC guard Jordan Turner that went out-of-bounds to Barton with 1.5 seconds remaining, and senior Daniel Westbrook was fouled on the in-bounds play after a time out. Westbrook made the second of two free throw attempts to provide the final margin for BC, and a desperation heave by Turner from 55 feet was short and right of the goal as time expired.
Westbrook produced game highs of 22 points and 11 rebounds to record his fourth double-double in the past five games, and the Wilson native also delivered a career-high five blocks. Claypool added 13 points, Isaiah Buck-Lowman and Tashawn Sampson each chipped in 11, and Matt Woods tossed in 10 for the Bulldogs. Boykin narrowly missed joining those five in double-figures, contributing nine points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Rishad Felton scored a team-high 17 points for the Bobcats. Darius Malbon added 16 points, while Lepreece Lynch and Turner each tossed in 13.
With the win, Barton (19-8, 14-5) sealed the No. 3 seed for next week's Conference Carolinas Tournament. The Bulldogs will host a quarterfinal game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Wilson Gym.
Lees-McRae (8-19, 7-12), which defeated the Bulldogs 91-85 in Banner Elk, N.C., a week ago, is one of two possible first-round opponents for Barton in the league tournament. The other possibility is rival University of Mount Olive, whom the Bulldogs will face for the second time this year on Friday in Mount Olive.
For the second straight week, the meeting between the Bulldogs and Bobcats came down to the wire. Tuesday's matchup featured 14 ties and 14 lead changes before BC finally took the lead for good on Claypool's clutch 3-pointer.
Lees-McRae pulled away to a nine-point advantage – the biggest lead of the night for either team – at 33-24 with 5:36 left in the first half on a jumper by Felton, but Barton used two free throws by Westbrook and 3-pointers by Claypool and Sampson to quickly climb back within one.
Barton reached its biggest lead of the game, five points, twice in the second half, the last time at 70-65 with 8:23 left following a pair of free throws by Westbrook. However, Lynch converted a three-point play on the other end to quickly bring the game back to a one-possession affair.
The Bulldogs enjoyed a four-point cushion at 74-70 with 6:08 remaining following a 3-pointer by Zach Grant, but the Bobcats went on a 9-0 run that put LMC up five with just 3:07 to go.
However, Barton used a layup by Claypool, a dunk by Westbrook and a 3-pointer by Woods to storm back into the lead at 81-79 with 1:39 remaining.
Malbon made two free throws for Lees-McRae with 1:31 to play to tie the game at 81-all, and the Bobcats forced Woods to throw up an off-balance 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring with 1:03 left. Turner collected the defensive rebound for the Bobcats, and later drove into the lane to knock down a floater with 41 seconds remaining that put LMC into the lead, 83-81.
The Bobcats made a strong defensive stand on the next possession, forcing Barton into another desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down, but this time Claypool's attempt swished the net, putting the Bulldogs into the lead for good with 12.9 seconds to go.
Barton made nine 3-pointers on the night while shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc. Lees-McRae was 8-of-18 from long distance, also 45 percent. Both teams also shot 46 percent from the field. LMC made a better free throw percentage, 72 percent, than Barton (67 percent), but the Bulldogs made five more free throws overall.
The Bulldogs out-rebounded Lees-McRae, 44 to 32, but the Bobcats won the turnover battle, 15 to 10.
Barton's meeting with Mount Olive on Friday is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tip. The Bulldogs claimed last week's meeting in Wilson, 80-74.