Wesleyan turns back HPCA

Jan. 08, 2013 @ 11:30 PM

For the second straight year, the Wesleyan Christian boys celebrated a big win with their fans up on the upper level of the High Point Christian gym.

The Trojans certainly had to work for it, as the Cougars rallied from 13 down in the third quarter to tie it with five minutes left. But, thanks in large part to their exposure to tough games in hostile environments, they were able to pull out a 45-39 win Tuesday to open PACIS 3A play.

“The experience definitely helped, being able to play in here last year and see what the atmosphere’s like,” said Wesleyan freshman guard Michael Buckland, who made a couple key plays down the stretch. “It’s a crazy atmosphere and a different gym. We just had to keep going at it and keep going hard.”

Harry Giles, a 6-foot-8 forward rated as one of the elite freshmen in the country, scored a game-high 19 points to lead the Trojans (12-3), ranked No. 2 among NCISAA 3A teams. Theo Pinson, Deshaunte Carelock and Trey Chapman followed with six apiece in a hard-fought game on both ends.

Diante Baldwin, a UNCG commit, scored 17 points while Mike Kobani, an Appalachian State signee, added 16 to key the Cougars (14-3), ranked No. 3. HPCA, after starting slow, rallied to tie it with 4:58 left but only scored two free throws from then out in a disappointing finish.

“You’ve got to move,” Cougars coach Brandon Clifford said. “We were just kind of standing around on offense early, and that’s not what we do. The film will show that. Against bad teams, your guys are so much more athletic that they’ll go by people and you don’t have to move as much. 

“Against good teams, when they bottle you up a little, you have to move to get them moving and that’ll open up driving lanes. There’s a lot we saw, but unfortunately we weren’t able to correct it in time to get the win tonight. We’ll learn from it and get better.”

With the score 37-37, Buckland, following a blocked 3-pointer, corralled the loose ball and drove to the basket, making the layup and drawing the foul to lead 39-37. After HPCA missed a 1-and-1, Buckland then hit two free throws with 4:17 left as Wesleyan inched away in the final minutes.

“I told the team to settle down,” said Trojans coach Keith Gatlin, his team coming off a four-point loss against one of the top teams in the country Saturday, of the final five minutes. “We’ve been here before. 

“That’s why we play the tough schedule, for when it comes to conference play. We knew what we had to do, and the guys just had to make free throws to put it away.”

The Cougars, who have also played some of the best teams in the country close, had trouble with Wesleyan’s length, which was particularly advantageous on the perimeter. That helped force HPCA into a slow start, trailing 17-11 at halftime, before finally picking it up in the third.

“We came out and struggled to get into a rhythm,” Clifford said. “We weren’t moving much on offense, and our attack is based on movement. We just kind of got caught up in the moment, I think. You can’t do that against a good team. But credit Wesleyan — they’re a good team. Their length really bothered us.

“We had some looks early that they were able to get a piece of, and then we were kind of timid after that. But they’re a good team and they guarded well around the basket. Second half, I thought we rebounded better. It just wasn’t the type of game where you could be down and make a push to get back in it and another push.”

HPCA plays again Friday at home against Forsyth Country Day while the Trojans play Saturday in the Brandon Jennings Invitational in Milwaukee. The two teams play again Jan. 29 at Wesleyan.