Barton women lose double-digit lead, fall to Winston-Salem State, 73-68

Archived photo of senior Brianna Thomas, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday?s game against Winston-Salem State University. | Photo by Mike Slade
Archived photo of senior Brianna Thomas, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday?s game against Winston-Salem State University. | Photo by Mike Slade

by Benny Benton

WILSON, N.C. – Barton College seniors Kaila Lea and Brianna Thomas combined for 30 points in the game's first 32 minutes to lead the Lady Bulldogs to a double-digit advantage, but Winston-Salem State University outscored BC 24-6 over the last eight to claim a 73-68 non-conference win Saturday in Wilson Gymnasium.

Keshira McNeil, a Georgia State transfer, poured in a season-high 26 points to lead the Lady Rams (3-5) in the victory, while Dionna Scott matched her season-high with 19.

Lea paced Barton (2-7) with 17 points, 12 of those scored in the first half. Thomas contributed her first double-double of the year with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman Tatyana Jackson chipped in 10 points.

Barton led 62-49 with 7:54 to play following two Shatisha Dukes free throws when Winston-Salem State picked up its defensive pressure and began to rally. The Lady Bulldogs turned the ball over four times in the span of a minute and a half, and WSSU turned all four miscues directly into points to trim the deficit to four points at 62-58 with 6:07 remaining.

The Lady Bulldogs briefly appeared to have weathered the storm, as a layup by Deja Jeanpierre and a free throw by Tiffany Webster put Barton back up by seven at 65-58 with 5:33 to go. However, BC made just one of its last five shots in the contest and turned the ball over three times, keeping the door open for the WSSU rally.

Winston-Salem State, which had made just 2-of-6 attempts from the free throw line in the first period, created many more opportunities to go to the line in the second half and made the most of them, sinking 12-of-15 (80 percent), including 8-of-9 in the game's final five minutes. Most of those were made by McNeil, who was 8-of-10 from the charity stripe in addition to 9-of-18 from the field.

A jumper by McNeil and five straight points from the line – two by Scott and then three by McNeil – tied the game at 65-all with 3:03 remaining. McNeil came up with a steal on Barton's next possession, turning it into a fast-break layup and a three-point play after being fouled on the shot to give WSSU its first lead of the second half, 68-65, with 2:44 left.

Barton's Jeanpierre responded with a step-back 3-pointer to tie the game at 68-all with 2:17 to play, and the Lady Bulldogs had a chance to regain the lead after the Lady Rams missed a shot on their next possession. However, a jumper by Jackson failed to go in, and McNeil was fouled while grabbing the rebound for Winston-Salem State.

McNeil made both free throws to put WSSU up 70-68 with 1:23 remaining, and Alexis Johnson's layup attempt while driving the left baseline did not drop in for Barton, giving the Lady Rams possession with the lead. Barton's defense forced McNeil to take a tough 3-pointer with two seconds left of the shot clock, but Angel Porter came up with a huge offensive rebound – her only rebound of the game – to keep the ball in WSSU's hands.

Winston-Salem State then worked the clock again, and this time Scott drained a 3-pointer from the right wing with 17 seconds to play, stretching the Lady Rams' lead to five, 73-68, and effectively putting the game away. Barton did not get another shot off, turning the ball over with four seconds left.

Before its late rally, WSSU had not led since a McNeil layup with 8:24 left in the first half. Leading by one at 24-23, Barton used a 3-pointer and a three-point play by Lea to start a 12-3 run and take a double-digit lead for the first time, 36-26, with 1:22 left before intermission.

A Tiana Edwards 3-pointer for the Lady Rams cut the halftime deficit to seven, 36-29, and Winston-Salem State got within six at 39-33 on a layup by Jeri Craine two minutes into the second period. However, Barton used a layup by Webster, a three-point play by Caila Carter, a tip-in by Thomas and a pair of free throws by Lea to comprise a 9-0 run that pushed BC to its biggest lead of the game, 48-33, with 14:34 left.

Winston-Salem State cut that margin roughly in half, getting within eight on a McNeil three-point play with 11 minutes to go, but Barton used four points from Dukes as part of a 9-2 run that pushed the lead back to 13 at 62-49 with 7:54 left. From there, the game-deciding rally began for WSSU.

The Lady Rams, which ranked among the bottom three teams nationally in field goal percentage coming into the contest, shot a season-high 44 percent in the game (28 of 64). WSSU also had a season-low 13 turnovers.

Barton, which had also struggled shooting all year, had one of its better outings, but slipped just below the 40 percent plateau with the late misses (.396 on 19 of 48 attempts). In doing so, the Lady Bulldogs fell to 0-7 on the season when shooting less than 40 percent.   

The Lady Bulldogs enjoyed a significant rebounding edge, 42 to 29, and shot a season-high 54 percent from 3-point range (6 of 11), but turned the ball over 25 times, the second-highest total of the year.

Barton, which played just its second home game of the year on Saturday, will return to the road for its final pre-holiday contest, squaring off against St. Augustine's University in Raleigh on Thursday, Dec. 18, at 6:30 p.m.