03/01/13 — Plenty at stake for MOC, Barton men

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Plenty at stake for MOC, Barton men

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 1, 2013 1:47 PM

Round two is here. Conference Carolinas archrivals Mount Olive College and Barton conclude regular-season play in the 3rd annual Battle of the East at Wilson Gymnasium this evening.

The women tip-off at 5:30 p.m.

Plenty remains at stake on the men's side.

The Trojans (14-11 overall, 11-8 CC) can clinch a opening-round home game in the league tournament, which begins Monday, if they upset the Bulldogs and Belmont Abbey loses to Coker. A loss sends MOC on the road.

The Bulldogs, ranked No. 3 in the latest Division II Southeast Region poll, are tied with Limestone for the league's top spot. Each team has five losses.

"It's definitely big for both of us," Trojans head coach Joey Higginbotham said. "They're looking to win the regular season and we want to host a first-round game. We had a good practice today (Thursday). We just have to worry about what we need to do to be successful.

"We know it's Mount Olive vs. Barton. We just have to be smart."

MOC leads the series 26-25.

Barton guard Gerald Boston is the conference's third-leading scorer with 21.3 points per game and ranks fourth in 3-point field-goal percentage (42.9 percent). Teammate Jon Hart is fourth among league players with 8.4 rebounds per game, while Chris Flemmings is hitting 43.7 percent from 3-point range.

The Dogs average 81 points an outing.

Darrell Patterson, one of five MOC seniors, ranks among the league's top 10 scorers with 15.7 points a game. Kendall Hargrove and Deshaune Green rank second and third, respectively, in 3-point percentage.

The Trojans score 80.2 points per contest.

"We're going to have to play with composure and poise because there is going to be adversity sometime during the game," Higginbotham said. "We have to handle that ... not individually, but collectively. It's going to come down to who takes better care of the ball, plays defense and rebounds."

Last month's meeting at Kornegay Arena left the Trojan women (15-10, 11-10) with a bittersweet taste. The Bulldogs, ranked No. 6 in the Southeast Region, departed with a 54-50 victory.

It was Mount Olive's lowest offensive output of the season.

"I think we're excited we have the opportunity to play them again," Trojans head coach Wendy Lee said. "We talked about how we played them the first time around. We don't think it was our best effort, we didn't put our best team out there.

"I think our mentality going into Barton will be a big deal. We need to be the aggressor instead of being on the receiving end of that."

Barton (19-6, 18-3) leads the conference in total free throws made (344) and free throws attempted (482). That stat alone convinces Lee that the Trojans must keep the Dogs from driving into the lane and creating fouls in their halfcourt offense.

They'll also have to limit Barton's transition baskets.

Nyeshea Willie leads the Dogs' offense with 18.5 points a game.

Mount Olive will counter with senior Tamara Nesmith, who leads the team in numerous offensive categories. An all-conference performer last season, Nesmith scores 16.2 points, grabs 9.2 rebounds and shoots 48 percent from the floor.

"She's a special player and special person," Lee said of Nesmith. "She's able to do a lot of things besides scoring and we've needed her scoring in the absence of Andrea Jones. She does so much to make everybody around her better and sees the floor in a way that's unusual for a player.

"Tam has carried a heavy load for us this year."

Jasmine McDonald averages 7.8 rebounds. Jo Gary ranks second among 3-point shooters in the conference at a 39.5-percent rate.