Panthers find way to seal deal
For a brief period, High Point University men’s basketball coach Scott Cherry feared he might be heading for deja vu instead of what turned out to be a thrilling 77-72 double-overtime victory over Liberty on Wednesday night.
When the Panthers trailed by five with 8:13 to go, the possibility loomed they could be dealt another loss after surrendering the lead in the first half.
“(The win) is huge,” Cherry said. “You know, we’ve lost close games this year. We’ve lost games when we’ve lost leads in the second half. I think they got up 4 or 5 and at that point you think maybe they are going to pull away but our guys didn’t let them.”
Cherry was happy with his bench, particularly wing Justin Cheek, whose six points in the second half included a pair of free throws that tied the score at 56 with 2:01 to play in regulation. The Panthers eventually forced overtime on Adam Weary’s layup with 49 seconds to go.
“Justin Cheek was huge,” Cherry said. “I was looking for a spark from somebody and he provided one on the offensive end.
Cheek and Devante Wallace got a good deal of playing time late in the second half at the wings as Weary played point guard. Wallace put in the tip of his own miss that was ruled as leaving his hand after the buzzer at the end of the first overtime.
“It was just a gut decision,” Cherry said. “I felt like having Adam at the point was good offensively and defensively. I was looking for Justin to do what he was doing offensively. Devante, I know what he can do. ... You make a gut decision. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t.”
Cherry did not think that Wallace’s tip was good.
“All the guys on the team thought it was good,” Cherry said. “But it looked like it was still in his hand when the light went off when it was in live speed.”
The Panthers made their comeback at the end of regulation without huge contributions from their top two scorers for the night, John Brown and Allan Chaney. But, they carried the Panthers in the overtimes.
Chaney, who led the Panthers with 22 points, had just one bucket in the last 17:44 of regulation, then scored 10 in the extra periods. Brown had just one free throw in the last 10 minutes of regulation and six points in the overtimes.
“They were warriors,” Cherry said. “It was hard to get them the ball the way Liberty was playing defensively. We just couldn’t come down the floor and throw it inside. I tried to move them around, bring Allan out and catch and post feed from the top where there is not a lot of help. We did that a few times and John got to the free throw line a few times. They played a lot of minutes and were exhausted, but I can’t complain at all. I love having those guys.”
HPU started the first half on fire, hitting 8 of its first 13 shots, then made just 3 of 16 to finish 11 of 29 for the half. The Panthers went 11 of 27 in the second half and offset going four of 12 in the overtimes by hitting 11 of 14 free throws.
“They switched their defense and ran a funky matchup zone kind of thing,” Chaney said of the challenge he and Brown faced scoring in the second half. “It was a pretty good strategy by their coach. They started out playing man and we were getting what we wanted. Then they went to that funky defense. But we figured it out. Our guards made great plays down the stretch and coach made great calls down the stretch.”