Panthers face Gophers in NIT

Mar. 17, 2014 @ 10:39 PM

Fun.
That’s the thing that coach Scott Cherry wants his High Point University men’s basketball team to have when it plays at Minnesota tonight in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.
HPU earned its most notable postseason appearance as a Division I school by gaining the Big South’s automatic NIT berth as the league’s regular-season champion. It is just the second postseason Division I outing for the program, the other coming last year in the CollegeInsider.com tournament.
Minnesota, one of the tournament’s four No. 1 seeds, is an at-large selection from the the Big Ten and was in contention for one of the final spots filled in the NCAA Tournament field.
“We’re certainly going up there to win,” Cherry said by telephone Monday afternoon as the Panthers were travelling by bus to catch a flight out of Charlotte. “But I want the guys just to try and have fun. It’s been a challenging year for us, losing Allan Chaney and the other injuries. For us to accomplished what we did — winning the conference after starting 0-2, no one has done that — was remarkable and unfortunately we didn’t play well enough in the conference tournament. So, I want playing in the NIT to be a testament to what we’ve accomplished.”
Cherry wasn’t surprised that the Panthers weren’t able to play close to home.
“We knew that we would likely face a No. 1 seed and that we would have to travel a pretty good distance,” Cherry said. “There are a lot of good teams in the field. There are several that won their conference’s regular season but didn’t win in the conference tournament, like us. But, getting in the NIT is another sign our program is headed in the right direction.”
The Gophers finished seventh in the Big Ten for the second straight season, their first under Richard Pitino, son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino. This is the program’s 13th appearance in the NIT (not counting two that were vacated) and first as a No.1 seed.
HPU started their preparation for the Gophers with one practice on Monday before leaving. The Panthers will have a customary game-day walk-through today.
Minnesota is lead in scoring by a trio of guards — Andre Hollins (14.2 points per game), DeAndre Mathieu (12.1 ppg) and Austin Hollins (11.6).
“They like to play fast and get up and down the court,” Cherry said. “So we have to make sure that we can get back on defense.”
Cherry is also concerned about the Gophers’ tall front-line that includes 6-10, 250-pound junior Maurice Walker (7.7 ppg, 4.1 rebounds per game), 6-9, 240-pound sophomore Joey King (6.4 ppg), 6-8 junior Oto Osenieks (5.4 ppg) and 6-11 junior Elliott Ellisaon (5.3 ppg).
“Rebounding is a concern because of the size difference,” Cherry said.
The Gophers have tendencies similar to Big South teams Winthrop and Campbell in the way they screen on offense, according to Cherry. Minnesota pressed on defense during its nonconference schedule, which included a 10-point win in November over Big South tournament champ Coastal Carolina. The Gophers used a 2-3 zone as well as man-to-man in Big 10 play.
“They pressed Coastal a lot so I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to do the same with us, but they may use the 2-3 to stop John Brown,” Cherry said “The thing we have to do is not let them speed us up and take us out of our game. Hopefully we’ve learned from our past experiences and will know what to do.”
The past experience includes a blowout losses at Arkansas and Georgetown, and hanging with Syracuse for 25 minutes. Minnesota lost to Arkansas and Syracuse in November.
“Everyone can look up the numbers and see what happened against Georgetown an Arkansas,” Cherry said. “But that came at a difficult time for us right after we lost Allen, we didn’t have everything put in place and some of the kids were just getting used to the system. But the kids can look back at playing with Syracuse as a success. At Arkansas, we just didn’t execute what we had practiced. But certainly the experience of playing those teams helps us as we prepare for Minnesota and all of this will help us if we play in the NCAA Tournament in the future."