HPU, VMI meet in huge showdown
Unless one of the coaches serves up a curveball, the clash for first place in the Big South’s North division between High Point University and VMI most likely will come down to a battle of philosophies at the Millis Center.
The Keydets (17-10, 10-4) like fast-paced, up-and-down the court, high-scoring affairs and average a conference leading 89.4 points per game (over six points more than the second-best team). HPU (14-13, 10-4) will try to play at a deliberate pace just as it did the first time the teams met and as they have done in winning eight of nine and 10 of 12. It is a run that has included wins over all the better teams in the league except VMI and Gardner-Webb.
“I think it will be a tale of two teams wanting to play a certain way,” HPU coach Scott Cherry said on Monday, “They want you to speed up and shoot quickly and then get out and run if you miss, They’re No. 1 in scoring for a reason.
”We’re not built for that. In beating some of the better teams in the conference, we were able to control tempo. But, we can’t go up and down the floor and rush shots. We still like to run and we’ll take our opportunities against VMI.”
HPU also tried to control tempo in the teams’ previous meeting, which ended in an 82-80 VMI victory in overtime. The Panthers held the Keydets to 27 points in the first half and gave up 47 in the second.
“I thought was played good defense in the first half of the first game and we weren’t as good in the second,” Cherry said. “But we did hold them to 75 points in regulation when they are averaging close to 90.”
With the high scoring average, it is no surprise the Keydets have plenty of weapons that the Panthers will be trying to stop. VMI boasts three of the top seven scorers in the conference, led by the league’s leading scorer, Q.J. Peterson, a freshman guard averaging 20.2 points per game.
Rodney Glascow, a sophomore guard who scored the winning basket against the Panthers, is fifth at 18.9. Senior center D.J. Covington is seventh at 18.1 and also grabs nine rebounds per game.
Peterson had 25, Glascow 18 and Covington 10 against the Panthers.
“They are the three-headed monster,” Cherry said.
If there is a weak spot in the Keydets’ offense, it could be their 3-point shooting. Even though Glascow leads the league in 3-point shooting at 41 percent, VMI is last as team from behind the arc at 33.2 percent.
“We’ve got to force them to take jump shots and when they do, we’ve got to rebound better than the last time,” Cherry said. “We gave up 17 offensive rebounds which gave them 17 more possessions.”
Since losing to the Keydets, the Panthers won four games, lost to Gardner-Webb and won four more.
“We’re a different team than the first time we played them,” Cherry said.
“The guys know what we to execute and stay with the game plan. But, we know we’re not going to roll there in win just because we are playing better.”
A win against the Keydets will guarantee the Panthers at least a second-place finish in the division and a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament at Coastal Carolina. A win does not guarantee the Panthers a second straight division championship. They must finish with a better conference record than VMI because the Keydets own all the tie-breakers.
A win against VMI and another Friday night against Campbell would not only give the Panthers the division but would also give HPU the best conference record and a berth in the NIT, if they do not punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tournament. HPU could slip to the No. 3 seed in the North with two losses.
“Obviously, we want to win the regular season, “ Cherry said. “It was one of the goals we’ve wanted to accomplish from the beginning of the season.
“We’ve come a long way since we started 0-2 in the league and have overcome a lot of injuries and adversity, We’ve been playing extremely well. We know what we need to do. It comes down to (tonight).”