HPU men look to conquer North
What appears to be a big deal to those looking on from the outside isn’t being treated that way by High Point University coach Scott Cherry.
The Panthers (15-10, 10-3) can clinch first-place outright in the North Division of the Big South Conference if they post a seven victory in a row tonight by defeating VMI (11-13, 6-6), who are in second place but trail by 3½ games and can do no better than tie HPU.
Cherry hasn’t mentioned clinching the division crown this week in practice.
“I think some of the guys have talked about it, but I really haven’t mentioned it,” Cherry said. “We just want to focus on what it takes to win each game and not get ahead of ourselves.
“We did talk about goals at the beginning of the season and one of them is to win the overall regular season. But we still have four games to go, three of them in the conference. So, we want to focus on the process on what getting prepared to go out and play. We don’t want to think about what may happen a couple of weeks down the road. The guys know that just we beat some these teams once that it won’t be easy to beat them again.”
And, if the Panthers clinch the division crown, there will not be a huge celebration.
“We’ll be happy if it happens,” Cherry said. “But the real goal for us is winning the conference tournament and getting a place in the NCAA Tournament.”
By losing its last three games, VMI has helped to put HPU in position to clinch. But, the Keydets lead the conference in scoring with an average of 78.4 points per game and feature senior Stan Okoye, who is leading the conference in scoring and rebounding.
“We certainly don’t want him to beat us but he’s not the only weapon,” Cherry said. “D.J. Covington had 31 points and something like 16 rebounds against Campbell the other night, so we can’t concentrate only on Okoye.
Cherry said the Panthers must do three things well against the Keydets.
’We can’t all them to get out on the fast break and have transition baskets because they like to run,” Cherry said. “We’ve got to do a better job of rebounding because we allowed them to have 17 offensive rebounds the last time. And, we have to take care of the ball like we did the last time when we had five turnovers.
And, the Panthers can’t be overconfident as a result of beating the Keydets 96-69 on Jan. 23 in the Millis Center.
“The last game we played them means nothing,” Cherry said.
The Panthers haven’t lost since a 69-58 setback at UNC Asheville and have won 11 of their last 14.
“We’ve found our identity offensively, and we’ve defended well at home on the road, which has given us a chance to win,” Cherry said. “Our game plans have varied slightly — we’ve made minor adjustments from game to game. Offensively, we’ve started shooting a high percentage. And the guys understand that our offense goes through John (Brown) and Allan (Chaney). But John and Allan are so unselfish that they’ve had no problem getting the ball to someone else if they are open.”