Panthers rule Big South
After one false start, the celebration began Friday night in the Millis Center.
The High Point University men’s basketball team outlasted Campbell 56-53 to clinch the Big South North division title with its sixth straight win and at 12-4 took the overall conference regular-season title and the conference’s automatic bid to the NIT if the Panthers do not earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tournament next week.
HPU will receive a first-round bye and open Big South Tournament play on Friday at noon in Myrtle Beach against an opponent to be determined.
The championship capped a run of 12 wins in 14 games as HPU (16-13 and assured of a winning record this season) overcame the loss of power forward Allan Chaney in December, and injuries to point guard Dejaun McGaughy and wing Adam Weary.
“I’m proud of these kids,” HPU coach Scott Cherry said. “They did all the work. It’s been a difficult year. For these kids to fight through what they’ve fought through is a credit to them.”
The celebration almost started when John Brown intercepted a Campbell inbounds pass with 2.7 seconds left. But he picked up his dribble before the clock ran out and was called for traveling. After a video review, officials put .9 of a second on the clock.
Campbell got the ball in this time but could not get a shot off before time ran out. The students in the packed Millis Center stormed the court, mobbing the Panthers as the celebration began.
It was interrupted by presentation of the regular-season trophy to HPU president Nido Qubein, then the players continued it on the court and in the Panthers locker room.
With center Brown struggling to find his shooting touch, Devante Wallace led the Panthers with 18 points. Lorenzo Cugini added 15 and Brown 12.
Long-range shooting threat Luke Moyer led Campbell with 16, and Kyre Hames and D.J. Mason had 12 each.
The Panthers scored just one point after going up 55-51 with 4:16 left but held the Camels scoreless after they pulled to within 55-53 on Moyer’s jumper with 3:29 to go. At that point, the Panthers changed their defense so one person would stay on Moyer instead of relying on switches.
“When you are struggling on offense like that then you have to rely on your defense,” Cherry said.
Brown had a chance to put the Panthers up two with 1:15 to go when he was pushed to floor trying to set a screen. But he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity. Moyer missed a long 3 and the Panthers rebounded with 52 seconds left.
Perez-Laham was saved from getting caught in a double team when Cherry called timeout with 31 seconds left. But, Wallace was caught in a similar trap with just over 20 seconds left.
“I was going to shoot it and I didn’t,” Wallace said. “I wish I had shot it. I felt bad when I lost it but the defense came through.”
Campbell worked for a shot but Mason missed a hook from in close with five seconds left. Cugini was fouled and made the first to put the Panthers up three with 3.6 to go. Campbell rebounded the miss and called time with 2.7 seconds left.
“I was nervous on the first one and it went in,” Cugini said. “The second one I thought was going to hit the front of the rim and fall in but it came up short.
Brown intercepted the inbounds pass but picked up his dribble when he thought time had run out.
“I couldn’t hear anything,” Brown said. “Everyone was screaming so I thought the games was over. Bu t they were screaming because I had intercepted the pass.”
With the score tied at 51 after six second-half lead changes, Weary hit a floater that hit the back of the iron and dropped through to put HPU ahead for good. Weary was playing for the first time in eight games since turning his ankle.
Brown drew a charge on Leek Leek and then at the other end slammed through Cugini’s miss to make it 55-51 with 4:04 to go. He drew a charge on Campbell’s next possession but the Panthers couldn’t convert and Moyer hit a fade-away jumper from the middle of the lane to cut it to 55-53.
Campbell took advantage of cold HPU shooting to lead 29-26 at the half.
The Panthers jumped out to an 8-2 lead behind two Buckets by John Brown and a 3 from Devante Wallace.
The points became harder for HPU to score after that as the Panthers managed just a 3 by Cugini over the next five minutes. That helped the Camels take their first lead at 12-11 in the first of six lead changes over the first 20 minutes.
Campbell led by as many as four at 18-14 as Moyer canned consecutive 3s. Wallace scored the next eight to put HPU up 22-18.
Brown continued to struggle, eventually missing his last eight shots of the half. But, the Panthers led until the Camels’ Hames scored six straight points on a conventional three-point play and a 3 to make it 27-26.
Brown said he became frustrated when he missed some shots that he usually makes.