Panthers look to cool Flames
Even with leading scorer John Brown, High Point University men’s basketball team didn’t win by big margins in defeating Liberty twice this season.
HPU prevailed by five in both instances but did have an 11-point halftime lead on the Flames’ homecourt. Now, the 17-12 Panthers will try for the season sweep without star center Brown and his 17 points per game scoring average in tonight’s quarterfinals of the Big South tournament at Coastal Carolina (8 p.m., WMFR).
It will be the first tournament game for HPU, which got a first-round bye as champion of the league’s North Division. Liberty, 12-20 and the No. 5 seed from the North, won a first-round game late Tuesday by upsetting host Coastal Carolina 78-61. Coastal was the No. 4 team from the South division.
“It’s tough to beat a team three times and we’re a different team without John,” HPU Scott Cherry said. “They’re playing well. It’s tournament time and anything can happen. Records and seeds and past games don’t mean anything. You’ve got to treat it like a new season.”
The Panthers are coming off a win over Campbell in the regular season finale last Saturday in which they rallied from 12 down in the second half and appeared to get more comfortable playing without Brown, who was sidelined by a broken foot three days earlier.
“It takes time to adjust and we don’t have 2-3 weeks to move pieces around and get them to fit right,” Cherry said.
Against Campbell, the loss of Brown meant more playing time for seniors Corey Law and Branimir Mikulic, who were starters before this season.
“It’s not like we’re trying to stick a couple of freshman in there,” Cherry said. “Corey and Branimir have started and are accustomed to being in that situation.”
Even without Brown, the Panthers will still try to feature a post offense led by Allan Chaney, now the team’s active leading scorer.
“Allan knows that he has to score,” Cherry said. “Corey and Branimir did a good job against Campbell and then we’ve got to get points from Adam Weary and our other guards. We’ve got to make up for the loss of John through a collective effort. If everyone scores two points more than their average, that’s around 17 points, and if everyone gets a rebound above their average, then that’s 7 or 8.”
Liberty’s offense features John Caleb Sanders, Davon Marshall and Tavares Speaks — a trio of guards who are averaging in double figures. Against Coastal, Marshall led the way with 28 points, 15 of them on five 3 points shots that gave him 11 treys in the past two games.
Led by Marshall, the Flames hit 9 of 20 attempts on 3-pointers against the Chanticleers. Liberty also made 9 of 17 from te 3-point range in a 73-56 win over Radford in the regular-season finale.
“Marshall is obviously shooting the ball well,” Cherry said. “A key for us in the two games we played against them is we did a good job defensively for a half both times. We’ve got to get out on them again and keep them off the 3-point line.”