SPRINGFIELD, Mass – It doesn’t get much better than this. Tournament Most Outstanding Player and senior guard Anthony Atkinson scored all of his team’s final 10 points, including a layup at the buzzer, as Barton rallied from a 74-67 deficit with 45 seconds remaining to capture the 2007 NCAA II Men’s Basketball title with a 77-75 victory over defending champion Winona State this afternoon at the Mass Mutual Center.
The win caps an impressive week for Barton (31-5) who won its three Elite Eight games by a total of five points en route to its first NCAA II title.
In the process, Winona State (35-1) had its NCAA II record 57-game win streak snapped. The Warriors were also prevented from becoming only the fifth team in history to win back-to-back titles.
“How do you put into perspective what Anthony Atkinson has meant to Barton College? He is one of the finest and most humble young men I’ve ever coached. I told him in the huddle that it was time for him to take over the game,” said Barton head coach Ron Lievense.
And take over he did. Winona State appeared to be in the catbird seat after Malvik hit a pair of free throws to make it a seven point affair. The Warriors’ fortunes changed in the blink of an eye however, thanks to a 5-10 point guard.
Atkinson finished inside that made it a five point ballgame and after senior guard Zach Malvik missed the front end of a one-and-one, Atkinson converted a jumper in the lane to make it 74-71 with 25 seconds left. Atkinson then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and scored while being fouled to make it 74-73 with 23 ticks showing. He missed from the charity stripe, but junior guard Jonte Flowers went 1-for-2 from the line on the other end to make it 75-73 Winona State with 19 seconds left.
Eight ticks later, Atkinson got a nifty reverse layup to go down that tied it, 75-75. It marked the first time Barton did not trail since the 7:42 juncture of the first half.
The heroics were not quite finished though. Sophomore guard Bobby Buffaloe came up with a steal at midcourt that he handed to Atkinson who dribbled down the right side and put home a layup as the horn sounded that set off a most unlikely celebration.
“We’ve been in worse trouble this year. We knew we were going to have to do something super–human to get through it,” added Lievense. “You can’t find a better ending than this one. I really don’t think you can.”
“Obviously, this is not how you want it to end, but all good things must come to an end. What can you do? At this point, I’m really just feeling for the seniors,” said Winona State junior center John Smith, the NABC Division II Player of the Year.
Atkinson, who hit a NBA 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime to lift Barton past Grand Valley State, 83-81, in a national quarterfinal game on Wednesday and then hit a free throw to propel the Bulldogs past Cal State San Bernardino, 80-79, in a semifinal encounter on Thursday, wound up with 29 points and four assists. Senior center Mark Friscone finished with 14 points, while freshman forward LJ Dunn had 10 points in 21 minutes off the bench.
For Winona State, Malvik scored 18 of his 26 points in the second period to pace four players in double-figures scoring. Flowers wound up with a “double-double” behind 13 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Senior guard Quincy Henderson tossed in a season-high 19 points, while Smith added 10.