By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 7, 2011 1:47 PM
WILSON -- Wendy Lee refused to focus on what could have been Sunday afternoon.
She praised her six seniors, instead.
The most-successful class in Mount Olive College women's basketball history saw its season end with an 83-68 loss against archrival Barton College in the Conference Carolinas tournament title game inside Wilson Gymnasium.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (25-4 overall) clinched the automatic bid for the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional, and faces Georgia College & State on Friday in Morrow, Ga.
The heart-breaking road defeat capped the careers of Trojan seniors Brittany Miller, Shequanta McGee, Laporsha Davis, Rashonda Speed, Jasmine Whitby and Jessica Nelms. The sextet appeared in three tournament championship games over the past four seasons, and advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2008.
Four-year performers Miller, McGee, Davis and Speed combined for 81 victories -- the most by any four-year class in program history. They also directed MOC to three 20-win campaigns in four tries.
"I appreciate the effort of our group and our seniors," said Lee. "They gave it everything they had. Despite the loss today, they have had a tremendous season and really laid the foundation for our program, and the underclassmen to carry forward (next year).
"They've been really good kids, they've worked hard and they've represented us with class. I think that stands out most to me, which is special."
All-tournament selection Andrea Jones emerged one of five MOC players in double figures with a team-high 14 points. McGee, also an all-tournament pick, chipped in 11 along with Miller and sophomore Alyssa Luebs. Luebs matched a career high with 14 rebounds, and Davis knocked down 10 points.
The physical affair had six ties and four lead changes.
The last deadlock occurred at 22-22 when Jones converted a layup around the seven-minute mark. But missed shots around the basket and not boxing out on the boards enabled Barton to conclude the opening half with a 24-10 run.
MOC hit just three field goals during that span.
"I felt like they were sagging a lot," said McGee. "Once we got to the 3-point line, they backed down. We use screens a lot, and the person that was screening, their man would step up and it prevented us from driving.
"They bumped us a lot on the dribble."
Barton boosted its advantage to 16 points early in the second half before Davis and Luebs spearheaded a 10-0 run. Davis buried a 3-pointer and Jones kissed a layup off the glass.
Luebs converted two offensive putbacks and Whitby drained one free throw to pull MOC to within 50-44 with 14 1/2 minutes to play. Luebs shot 50 percent from the floor for the game and wiped the offensive glass for nine rebounds.
"We went with Luebs for defensive purposes, and she really stepped up and got some stops and big rebounds for us," said Lee. "It was the kind of thing you have to go with your instincts on what's helping you at the time, and we needed some stops and rebounds."
The Trojans (21-8) continued to peck away at the deficit.
McGee's layup closed the gap to 68-64, which sent the Trojan fans in attendance into a frenzy. The Dogs turned over their next possession and freshman Nyeshea Willie, the league's freshman of the year, stripped Whitby on a layup attempt.
Willie raced downcourt, drew the foul and hit both free throws.
"We missed getting matched up, and gave up an easy bucket and the foul," said Lee. "That kind of hurt our momentum. That one particular play was pretty costly. The difference in the game was we gave us some offensive boards early in the game that hurt us, and we missed easy buckets (17 total) around the basket.
"Those two things Barton will capitalize on and they did."
Barton tallied 13 of the game's final 17 points, and finished with a one-sided 26-13 scoring advantage at the free throw line. Janetta Robinson and Willie paced the Dogs' offense with 25 and 15 points, respectively.