Losses to archrival sting UMO

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Disappointment shrouded the faces of University of Mount Olive basketball players – women and men – when they exited the locker room.

This was not Trojan basketball.

A doubleheader loss to arch rival Barton College felt comparable to salt stinging an open wound.

“We know while we were out there, we weren’t playing our best game,” said UMO guard Kelly Post after the women endured an embarrassing 83-56 defeat. “We’re going to bounce back. That’s the best thing I can say.”

Barton took a page out of UMO’s playbook in the men’s game.

The Bulldogs owned a 31-9 edge at the free-throw line, controlled the defensive boards and escaped with a 90-81 victory. They’ve won three straight in the series and eight of 10 overall since 2016.

“That was our game plan and we did not execute our game plan one bit,” UMO head coach Joey Higginbotham said. “You’ve got to keep the ball out of the paint and you’ve got to keep the boards close. We did that for 8 minutes.”

Despite the losses on their home court, each Trojan team could still play host to an opening-round game in the season-ending Conference Carolinas tournament. The UMO women (15-6 overall, 12-5 CC) currently sit fourth behind nationally-ranked Belmont Abbey, Barton and Emmanuel. The men (13-8, 7-6) are fifth with four games separating eight teams in the standings.

The semifinals and finals are at Wofford College.

Post said the Trojan women must shore up their defense, communicate better and produce offensively as a senior class. UMO lost just about every statistical category, but outscored the Bulldogs’ bench 21-13 in a game that featured five ties and three lead changes before BC took command.

The depth has proven critical for Post and her teammates. Five players have spent the entire season in street clothes, while junior forward Sherry Johnson has dealt with a nagging injury.

“We’ve understood that whenever there was an injury, someone has always been able to step up and I think we’ve done that in great strides,” Post said. “We have to get ready for whatever team is next. We know we’re not done yet. We’re going to use this to fuel us because this was not our game and we know who we really are.”

The UMO men have started every month, except November, with an 0-2 slate.

Before this current slide, the Trojans pieced together a six-game win streak that included victories over regionally-ranked foes Lees-McRae and Belmont Abbey.

While a regular-season league title is out of reach, the league’s automatic bid to the conference tournament champ remains at-large. UMO last appeared in the NCAA Division II tournament in 2015 when it advanced to the Elite Eight.

“We’ve got to figure out how to play hard every day,” Higginbotham said. “I told them I’m not begging you to play hard no more. If you don’t play hard, you’re not going to play because Mount Olive kids play hard. Whether we’re talented or we’re not talented, we play hard and we did not do that tonight.”

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