Cherry optimistic about next season

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 10:45 PM

What might have been.

That will be the nagging feeling for the High Point University men’s basketball team, which saw its season finally come to a close with a 80-71 loss late Wednesday night at UC-Irvine in the first round of the Tournament.

The Panthers couldn’t make enough stops on defense or make enough shots on offense, after rallying from 10 points down to edge ahead by one midway though the second half. Adam Weary led with 18 points and Allan Chaney added 16 points and 11 rebounds as the Panthers finished with a 17-14 record and a disappointing end to the season in the wake of leading scorer John Brown breaking his foot with two games left in the regular season.

By that time, the Panthers had clinched the North Division championship in the Big South (the program’s first-place finish in the conference) and has posted the best road record at 5-3. With a win over Campbell in the season finale, the Panthers set a season-record for conference wins at 12. With Brown, HPU was among the favorites to win the conference tournament. Without him, the Panthers lost in the quarterfinals to Liberty, which went on to win the tournament, raising questions about what HPU might have done with Brown healthy. As it was, playing in the CIT was the first postseason action for the program in the Division-I era.

“We accomplished some firsts for the program,” Cherry said last week before the Panthers landed the berth in the CIT. “It was just unfortunate that John was injured so late in the season. Losing 17 points a game is tough to overcome on such short notice.”

Cherry has plenty of reasons to be optimistic. With the return of 11 players, led by Brown and second-leading scorer and top rebounder Chaney, the Panthers will retain 79 percent of their scoring and 63 percent of their rebounding. 

“Now we’ve got to take the next step as a program,” Cherry said. “With almost all of these guys coming back, we’ve got to win the conference tournament and go to the NCAA tournament next season.”

One of the biggest needs will be depth with the loss of reserve guard Jairus Simms, post player Corey Law and forward Branimir Mikulic. He also needs more consistent scoring from the outside.

“We even need Allan to improve on his outside shooting, so he can hit shots and help stretch the defense like he started to do late in the season,” Cherry said last week. “We need everyone to get better if we are going to win the conference tournament and get to the NCAA. That’s our goal for this program.”