Flames rally engulfs Panthers
Just when the High Point University women were feeling really good about their play against Liberty University, that feeling slowly but steadily drained away and was replaced by one much worse.
The Panthers led by 15 at halftime in a key matchup atop the Big South Conference standings, but the Flames opened the second half on a 25-4 run to take the lead and handed High Point a disappointing 67-59 loss Saturday afternoon in the Millis Center.
“It’s extremely disappointing, extremely frustrating,” junior center Cheyenne Parker said emphatically, “especially because they took the championship from us on our home court just last year. So, it’s probably the toughest loss we’ve had all year.”
The Panthers (12-9, 6-4 Big South), who were one game back of first-place Liberty and Winthrop, were led by Parker with 17 points and 12 rebounds (her 17th double-double of the season) and junior guard Tayler Tremblay with a season-high 20 points, one point shy of her career-high. Parker also had six blocks while Tremblay had five assists.
Tolu Omotola scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Devon Brown (16 points), Brittany Campbell and Ashley Rininger (11 points each) also scored in double-figures to lead Liberty (17-6, 9-2), which shot just 21.6 percent in the first half but improved to 46.9 in the second. High Point shot 59.3 percent in the first and fell to 24.1 in the second.
“We came out in the first half and played some of the best basketball we’ve played,” Panthers coach DeUnna Hendrix said. “Then, going into halftime, we just didn’t come out with the same mentality. It’s just that championship mentality, and Liberty has that. It doesn’t matter if they’re down 20 or two — they’re not going to be down long, at least in their mind.
“We talked about how they shot 20 percent from the field in the first half. That wasn’t going to happen in the second half and we needed to cut down on their second and third opportunities, and they really took advantage of that. ... When they made their run, we tensed up, instead of being confident and letting the ball go. I just don’t think we adjusted well mentality-wise and stayed aggressive.”
High Point used an 8-0 run midway through the first half to lead by 12 with 6:54 left and scored the final six points of the half to lead 38-23 at halftime. Early in the second half, however, the Flames scored on 11 of 12 possessions while the Panthers, struggling against Liberty’s switch to a 2-3 zone, scored just twice to trail 48-42 with 11:46 left.
“It was tough,” Parker said. “We tried to come closer together and tighter as a team and stay composed. But it was definitely hard to do. We have to come in tomorrow with the right mindset that we have a long way to go. We just played against a championship team, but we’re going to be a championship team. So, we have to learn how to fight back.”
High Point did cut it to three with 6:41 left and five in the final minute, but it missed a chance to pull within three with 43 seconds left. From there, Liberty sealed it at the free-throw line. The Panthers, who won the teams’ previous meeting 71-63 on Jan. 17, play their next two on the road, starting at Longwood on Thursday, before returning home Feb. 14 against UNC Asheville,
“I think we’re confident right now in each other, as far as our talent goes,” Hendrix said. “But I think we get too comfortable and teams will battle back. That’s where we need to mature in the second half and really get down to the principles of things, which is toughness.”