by Benny Benton
DUE WEST, S.C. – For the first 26 minutes of Saturday's matchup, the Conference Carolinas Tournament battle between Barton College and Erskine College was the close affair anticipated between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds.
After two free throws by Tatyana Jackson that pulled the Lady Bulldogs within four points with 13:53 to go, however, Barton scored just one field goal and four total points in the next seven-plus minutes, allowing the Fleet to sail away to a 74-63 quarterfinal victory.
The Lady Bulldogs (14-16) made just 1-of-10 from the field and 2-of-6 from the line while turning the ball over four times during that stretch. Erskine (18-11) surged in front to a lead of 14 points, scoring most of its points from the free throw line, where it was 7-of-8 during the decisive run.
Barton forced Erskine into 22 turnovers in the contest and out-rebounded the Fleet by seven, but the Lady Bulldogs could not defend the free throw line, where Erskine drained 23-of-29 in the game, including 17-of-21 in the second half alone.
By contrast, the Lady Bulldogs had 10 less attempts and made 13 less shots from the charity stripe, a difference greater than Erskine's margin of victory.
Erskine received strong inside play from forwards Andrienne Bannerman (18 points, 7 rebounds), Naomi Stuger (13 points) and Tara Potter (12 points, eight rebounds).
Barton was paced by senior Brianna Thomas, who scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds in her final game as a Lady Bulldog. Sophomore Tiffany Webster added 15 points, 10 of those coming in the first half. Statisha Dukes and Jackson each chipped in eight points, with Dukes also posting eight rebounds.
The Lady Bulldogs held a pair of early three-point leads, the second one at 9-6 following a jumper by Jackson. Erskine went on a 10-2 run, capped by a steal and layup from Ashley Espinosa, to go up five, but Webster scored eight points in a three-minute span as Barton rallied to tie the game at 22-all with 6:35 left in the half.
Erskine took a three-point cushion into intermission, 34-31, and Espinosa scored the first bucket of the second half to put the Fleet up five again, but Barton rallied to within one on a Dukes layup. Leading by two, Erskine pulled away to a seven-point advantage on its lone 3-pointer of the game, but Thomas answered with a 3-pointer of her own to cut the deficit back to four. Barton still trailed by four following Jackson's two free throws with 13:53 left when the collapse began.
The loss was the first by the Lady Bulldogs in the quarterfinal round of the tournament since Barton was upset as a No. 1 seed by Erskine, 87-83, in 2010.