Panthers bring winter heat
In late November and much of December, the High Point University men likely hoped their toils would eventually pay off. Come to find out in January and February, they have.
Over the last 12 games, the Panthers have been nearly unstoppable. Since starting 4-7, they have gone 9-3 — their best 12-game stretch since 2006-2007 — and currently ride a four-game winning streak in leading the Big South Conference North Division.
“I think we’re playing well,” said junior guard Derrell Edwards, a junior college transfer. “Our main focus is defense. And I think my guys are starting to get it, as far as the whole winning aspect and staying humble at the same time.
“We’ve been given a lot of opportunities and we’re just trying to take advantage of them and do something that’s never been done at High Point before. … It’s been the little things. That’s what makes great teams.”
High Point, 13-10 overall and 8-3 in the Big South, leads VMI by 1½ games after picking up road wins against Winthrop and Campbell and then winning its last seven home games — including a double-overtime thriller against Liberty.
“I just think they saw what they needed to do to be successful in this league,” HPU coach Scott Cherry said. “For a while there, we were still learning, still trying to figure things out. And then offensively we really started to zero in on trying to get the ball to John (Brown) and Allan (Chaney) and playing through them.
“Once it goes through them, if they kick it out, if guys have open looks, you’ve got to make them. And then I think our guards have gained confidence in their shooting. They’ve been working, getting in the gym, taking extra shots and feeling confident by seeing the ball go in a lot.”
Last couple years, the Panthers were among the Big South’s better teams but didn’t quite break through. But Cherry sees those experiences as part of the learning process for his players, and, with a couple additions, they’re now starting to see the results.
“It takes time to build the program the way you want it,” he said. “I’m in my fourth season, and we’ve got the program where we want it to be with the guys in the program who you recruit. And you work as hard as you possibly can to bring in the best players.
“Sometimes you make mistakes, but I feel like I have a great group of guys who understand what it takes and how hard you have to prepare to win. We return a majority of the guys next year. We’re focused on now, but it feels good — it just takes time.”
The final six regular-season games (five in conference; one against Morgan State in the ESPN BracketBuster game) and into the tournament will be huge. High Point next travels to Longwood on Wednesday, to Liberty on Saturday and to VMI on Feb. 19.
“Like the old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Edwards said with a laugh. “We just have to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing the last couple practices over the last two weeks. Focusing. And we have to be even more focused coming up.”