by Benny Benton
DUE WEST, S.C. – The Erskine College women's basketball team held Barton to just 19 first-half points and took advantage of numerous chances at the free throw line in claiming a 78-66 win over the Lady Bulldogs Saturday afternoon at Belk Arena.
Barton, now 2-5 overall and 1-2 in Conference Carolinas, matched the Flying Fleet with 47 second-half points, but could not overcome the early deficit. Erskine's defense, ranked 33rd nationally in field goal percentage defense, held the Lady Bulldogs to just 22 percent in the opening period on 8-for-36 shooting and 35.6 percent for the game.
The Lady Bulldogs are now 0-5 this year when shooting less than 40 percent and 2-0 when exceeding that plateau.
Despite the shooting woes, Barton still scored two more field goals in the game than the Fleet (26 to 24). However, Erskine took twice as many free throws as the Lady Bulldogs, 36 to 18. EC made 28 of those (78 percent) in outscoring the Royal Blue and White by 16 points from the charity stripe.
Barton, which came into the contest ranked 15th nationally in turnover margin, posted a season-high 19 steals and forced the Fleet into 26 turnovers, but the Lady Bulldogs committed a season-high 28 themselves, nearly twice their season average.
Freshman Alexis Johnson led Barton with 14 points and also chipped in five rebounds and five steals. Sophomores Caila Carter and Shatisha Dukes each added 11 points, and senior Brianna Thomas pulled in a game-high nine rebounds for the Lady Bulldogs in the loss.
Erskine came into the game ranked No. 4 nationally in defensive rebounds per game (35), but was held 10 below that average as Barton grabbed a season-high 28 offensive boards and enjoyed a plus-nine (48-39) rebounding advantage overall.
The Flying Fleet (5-4, 3-1), which has won three straight league games since a one-point setback to nationally-ranked Limestone College, was paced by 20 points from sophomore Ashley Espinosa. Naomi Stuger and Marnasha Eugene came off the bench to add 12 and 10 points, respectively, and Andrienne Bannerman contributed eight rebounds and four blocks.
Although it was Barton who ultimately struggled to score points in the first half, the game began as if the opposite might be true.
The Lady Bulldogs used a jumper by Carter and a 3-pointer by Tiffany Webster to take a 5-0 lead just 2:14 into the game. Erskine missed its first four shots and turned the ball over four times in going nearly six minutes without a point. Barton extended its lead to 7-0 on another jumper by Carter at the 14:45 mark, but those were the only points scored by BC in a stretch of more than nine minutes.
The Fleet eventually took the lead 9-7 on a jumper by Stuger and never gave it back, although it certainly did not run away with it. Barton still trailed by three points with less than five minutes to go in the half before EC used a jumper sandwiched between four free throws to comprise a 6-0 run that pushed the advantage to nine with 4:14 left before intermission.
The margin for Erskine reached 12 by halftime and only dipped back into single digits for 30 seconds following a Kaila Lea 3-pointer for BC a minute into the second period. The Fleet quickly went on a 12-2 run to go up 19 with just over 16 minutes still remaining, and eventually grew the lead to as many as 27 points with just under seven minutes to play.
Still trailing by 25 with 2:13 left, Barton came up with five steals against Erskine's subs in the final two minutes to cut that deficit in half by the final buzzer.
Barton, which has played six of its first seven games away from Wilson Gymnasium, will make one more road trip before its next home game. The Lady Bulldogs will visit Elizabeth City State University on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. as part of a non-conference doubleheader.