HPU men prevail in battle for first place
Turning back a furious VMI rally from 16 points down, High Point University held on for a 70-67 victory in the battle for first place in the Big South’s North division on Wednesday night at the Millis Center.
Despite slightly twisting his ankle in the second half, John Brown scored 27 points — becoming the first Big South player to tally 1,000 points in his first two seasons — and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Panthers improved to 15-13 and 11-4 in the Big South. Devante Wallace added 16 for the Panthers and Anthony Lindauer had 10.
“They were 10-4 and we were 10-4,” Brown said. “We just had to come out and play our game. They were looking for blood and we were looking for blood. We knew it was going to be a duel. We knew they weren’t going to give up.”
With a win over Campbell in the regular-season finale on Friday, they will clinch first place and secure a NIT berth with the best record in the conference. The win also assures HPU of at least a second-place finish in the division and a first-round bye in the conference tournament. VMI would win the tie-breaker for top seed in the division if it defeats Longwood on Saturday and the Panthers lose to Campbell.
“We’re just proud of our accomplishments,” HPU coach Scott Cherry said. “This has been an incredible year, a difficult year. Just to have a bye and if we do what we need to do Friday and be regular-season champions, it would be a tremendous honor for these kids considering the circumstances.”
VMI, led by center D.J. Covington’s 19 points, dropped to 17-11 and 10-5. Rodney Glascow and Tim Marshall added 15 each for VMI while Q.J. Peterson, the leading scorer in the conference, was held to 10.
HPU led by as many as 16 in the second half, that at 45-29 with 15:45 to play. VMI scored 15 of the next 19 points thanks to the Panthers having trouble adjusting to a 1-3-1 zone defense and the Panthers failing to convert shots that it made in the first half.
“We thought that they may go to the zone to protect Covington because he had three fouls,” HPU coach Scott Cherry said. “They played man-to-man to start out and we were able to get some drives against it. When they switched to that 1-3-1 is when things flipped. We hadn’t practiced against that thing in a long time. We know what to do against it but we really got passive. And when we turned it over a few times and missed our first or four shots against it, that affected our defense.”
Covington, Peterson and Marshall took turns scoring during the comeback. Covington and Peterson were expected to contribute but Marshall was the surprise as he went into double figures for just the third time this season.
That got the Keydets within 49-44 and they eventually closed to within one at 64-63 on Glasgow’s floater at the basket with 2:48 to go. The Panthers went up five on Derrell Edwards off-balance shot at the basket with 1:37 to play.
VMI cut it to three on Covington’s layup with 1:17 to go. VMI missed a chance to tie when Peterson’s 3-point try went over the backboard with 26 seconds left. But, HPU point guard Jorge Perez-Laham threw the ball away trying to complete a pass from the backcourt to the Panthers’ foul line. The Keydets missed a 3 but Derrell Edwards was called for a foul on the rebound. Wesleyan Christian product Trey Chapman sank two free throws to make it one again.
But, Wallace was fouled on the inbounds and made both free throws, which became the final margin when Glascow’s shot at the buzzer glanced off the backboard.
“We didn’t handle (the last 30 seconds) like we practice it,” Cherry said. “But you’ve got a high pressure moment and everyone knew what we were playing for. Sometimes you make mistakes. But the beauty of it is, they didn’t score off of them. We got stops when we needed them and came out with a victory. It’s not always going to be picture-perfect but we’ve had a lot close games but have pulled them out when we needed to.
HPU led 39-25 at the half, thanks to a combination of a hot start and the inability of VMI to hit outside shots.
The Panthers rushed to an 8-0 lead, scoring on their first possession while the Keydets whiffed. Wallace was the hottest Panther, scoring nine points as HPU went up 15-5 after five minutes.
“They took the game at VMI so we had to come out and give them a punch real quick,” Brown said. “We knew that was the only way we were going to win.”
VMI never got closer than six during the first 20 minutes and the margin was 35-25 before HPU scored the last two baskets of the half.
Brown got the first on a floater in the lane, then came up with a steal and got the ball to Perez-Laham for a lay-in with two seconds left in the half. Brown had 12 at the break, with the last of those giving him 1,000 for his career.
The Panthers held the Keydets to 29 percent shooting in the half as VMI made just 1 of 12 attempts from behind the arc. VMi was also dealt a blow when Covington picked up this third foul and went to the bench with 4:23 left in the period. Despite that, Covington was the Keydets leading scorer with eight points at the break.