Barton celebrates national championship

Published 5:08 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2007

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
WILSON — It was officially “Barton Bulldog Day” in Wilson on Monday.
Fans, young and old, turned out in scores to help the Barton Bulldogs celebrate their NCAA Division II national championship. Barton won its first national title in any sport with Saturday’s thrilling 77-75 win over Winona State in Springfield, Mass.
There were signs congratulating the Bulldogs on every street leading up to Wilson Gymnasium, home of the Bulldogs. The street in which Wilson Gymnasium sits was renamed Championship Drive in honor of Barton’s accomplishment.
Blue and white balloons were in abundance. So, too, were the fans who gave Barton coach Ron Lievense and his team a rousing ovation.
Senior Anthony Atkinson hit a layup at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs the national title, capping off a remarkable run through the Elite Eight. It was nice revenge for Barton as Winona State knocked the Bulldogs out of the Elite Eight last year.
Sarah Hodges, the Publication Information Officer with Beaufort County Schools and a 1991 graduate of Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College), was thrilled to see her school win a national title.
"Absolutely awesome,” Hodges said. “Such a talented hometown player (Atkinson) bringing the title to Wilson, you can't write this stuff. It could not have happened to a better ‘little school that could.’ And there will not be a Final Four finish that can top this one.”
Of Barton’s 31 wins, nine came in extra periods. The Bulldogs, the regular-season and tournament Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference champions, set an NCAA record by winning all nine overtime games they played during the season.
Barton’s last win was its most exciting. The Bulldogs erased a seven-point deficit in the final 39 seconds. Atkinson scored the final 10 points for Barton, including the game-winning layup with a fraction of a second showing on the clock, to give the Bulldogs the national championship.
In each of Barton’s three Elite Eight games, the Bulldogs had to beat teams from bigger schools. The 15th-ranked Bulldogs finished with a school-best record of 31-5, winning a school-record 21 consecutive games in the process. The last, and biggest victory, came in Saturday’s championship win.
Barton, a school with less than 1,000 students, knocked off a top-ranked Winona State Warriors team (35-1), home to 8,000 students, that had won 57 straight games. That included a national championship in 2006.
Sophomore center David King said he was amazed by the support the team has received.
Barton has become the darlings of the basketball world. Many seem to be jumping on the bandwagon, but that’s just fine with King.
Atkinson shines for Bulldogs
By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
WILSON — His teammates had a difficult time chasing down Anthony Atkinson after his layup, with just a fraction of a second to play, gave the Barton Bulldogs a thrilling 77-75 win over Winona State to claim the NCAA Division II national championship.
After hitting the game-winner, erasing a seven-point deficit with 39 seconds to play in Saturday’s championship game in Springfield, Mass., Atkinson, who finished with 29 points, ran around the court, lifted his shirt and put his hands over his head in disbelief.
Believe it, baby. The Bulldogs are national champions.
What was Atkinson feeling as he zig-zagged around the court?
Atkinson’s teammates finally caught up with the senior star, a hometown product who led Greenfield to a pair of state championships, to celebrate the school’s first NCAA championship in any sport.
On Monday, in front of the Wilson Gym at Barton College, fans caught up with Atkinson and the rest of the Bulldogs, coached by Ron Lievense, to join in the celebration.
Atkinson said he couldn’t be prouder to bring a national championship back to his hometown.
Though Barton made a number of comebacks throughout the season, Saturday’s predicament seemed a little dicey. The Bulldogs trailed by seven with 39 ticks showing on the clock.
Atkinson made it happen.
Atkinson made it a five-point game with a layup with 39 seconds to play. After Zach Malvik, who finished with 26 points, missed a free throw, Atkinson nailed a short jumper to make it 74-71 with 25 seconds remaining.
Errol Frails stole the inbounds pass and dished it to Atkinson, who hit a circus shot and got fouled in the process. Atkinson missed the free throw, but the shot pulled the Bulldogs within 74-73 with 23 seconds left.
Winona State’s Jonte Flowers split a pair of free throws to give the Warriors a 75-73 advantage. Atkinson hit a reverse layup at the other end with seven seconds remaining to tie the game. Bobby Buffaloe stole the ball from Malvik near mid-court with just over two seconds to play. Buffaloe fed the ball to Atkinson, who had just enough time to soar in for the game-winning layup.
Atkinson, an All-America point guard who averaged over 20 points per game for the Bulldogs, was the star throughout Barton’s Elite Eight run. His free throw with 1.5 seconds to play gave Barton an 80-79 win over eighth-ranked Cal State San Bernardino in the semi-finals. Atkinson finished with 19 points.
The senior, named the MVP of the Elite Eight tournament, also had the game-winner in the previous game, nailing a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Barton an 83-81 overtime victory against seventh-ranked Grand Valley State University. Atkinson finished with 32 points in the win.
Atkinson, a two-time Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference Player of the Year, said the national championship ranks right up there with his recent engagement to Veronica Johnson. He proposed at halfcourt following one of Barton’s wins this season.
The senior, who hopes to play professionally, became an overnight sensation with his exploits in the championship game. He said he won’t let that change his personality.
Not even a national championship.