02/12/10 — Easley's 3-pointer lifts Mount Olive past Barton

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Easley's 3-pointer lifts Mount Olive past Barton

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on February 12, 2010 12:05 PM

WILSON -- Kendrick Easley did not hit the number of shots on Thursday night that he has become accustomed to during his career at Mount Olive College.

The All-American did hit the one that mattered most. The reigning Conference Carolinas player-of-the-year buried a deep 3-pointer as the final horn sounded and gave the Trojans an 84-81 victory over archrival Barton at "The Dog House."

Mount Olive (18-5 overall, 15-1 CC) clinched at least a share of its third consecutive regular-season Conference Carolinas title with the win.

"I was not the guy that the final play was drawn up for, but I wound up with the ball," said Easley. "I stepped up and tried to shoot it with confidence."

The final play was the culmination of a furious second-half comeback by the Trojans.

After the Bulldogs (11-10, 7-7) built a 13-point advantage in the opening moments of the second half, Mount Olive head coach Joey Higginbotham called timeout and settled his team's nerves.

The Trojans took advantage of some foul trouble on the Bulldogs' front line and constantly pounded the ball inside to Mike Holloman and Craig Hayes. With just four minutes to play, Hayes buried a free throw to tie the game at 73-73.

Easley sank a jumper with 90 seconds to play that gave the Trojans a 79-78 lead and sent the visiting crowd into a frenzy.

"We battled and kept charging and my guys played so hard in those final minutes," said Higginbotham. "I think we needed a game like this. A real test of our mettle."

With his team down three points, Barton's Gerald Boston made a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game at 81-81 with one minute to play. After a failed possession by the Trojans, the Bulldogs took over and ran their half-court offense.

Boston drove the lane and appeared to be headed for the go-ahead layup, but slipped on a wet spot on the floor and the speedy guard slid out of bounds. Mount Olive deflected the ball out of bounds as well with two seconds on the shot clock and forced the Bulldogs to throw up a wild shot.

Holloman grabbed the rebound and Derek Staton raced to half court before calling timeout with just 11 seconds left in regulation.

The final play was not what Higginbotham envisioned.

Holloman grabbed the inbounds pass and nearly lost the handle before throwing an overhead pass to Staton on the right wing. Staton found Easley open in the corner with two seconds to play and Easley rose above his defender.

The shot left Easley's hand.

The horn immediately followed and the ball swished threw the net.

"That was an All-American player making an All-American play," said Higginbotham. "We wanted to run a two-man play with Holloman and Hayes, but when that broke down it was Kendrick that came through."

Hayes led the Trojans with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Holloman added 17 points and seven boards. Easley, Staton and Brandon Allen each scored 14 points.

Mount Olive entertains Erskine on Saturday.