Site: High Point, N.C. (Millis Center)
Score: Winthrop 76, High Point 70
Records: High Point (8-12), 6-9 Big South, Winthrop (19-1), 16-1 Big South
Next HPU Event: Friday, Feb. 19th vs. Winthrop (Millis Center), 7:00 PM
HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University men’s basketball team (8-12) (6-9) fell 76-70 on Thursday night (Feb. 18) in a hard-fought game against Winthrop (19-1) (16-1). HPU was led by sophomore John-Michael Wright who finished the game with his first double-double of the season, scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The 27 points were two shy of tying Wright’s season-high, while the 10 boards were the most the Fayetteville, N.C. native has collected this season.
“Certainly Winthrop is one of the top teams we’ve played this year by far” head coach Tubby Smith said after the game. “They’re extremely deep and talented, they rebound the ball extremely well. Coach Kelsey has done a fantastic job down there at Winthrop. We didn’t have a real answer for the big boy, D.J. Burns on the inside, he gave us a lot of problems. At the end, Russell Jones really stepped up and made his free throws down the stretch. The difference in the game was rebounding. I thought our kids played hard, though. We got more from our bench tonight than we have in the past, but that was because Bryson Childress knocked down three three-pointers. We need more production, not just scoring-wise, but defensively and we need to be more physical.” Smith continued.
The Panthers came out with the energy early, scoring the first seven points of the game, five of which came from freshman Ahmil Flowers. High Point forced Winthrop into making errors only on, causing four early turnovers including sophomore Bryant Randleman drawing an offensive foul to send the ball the other way. The Eagles scored five-straight to cut the Panthers’ lead to two, 7-5, at the first media timeout of the game.
Wright’s scoring started early, picking up seven of the Panthers’ first 12 points. A 7-0 run for the Eagles put High Point down 16-12 with just under 10 minutes to play in the first before sophomore Emmanuel Izunabor’s first points of the contest broke the four-minute scoring drought for the Panthers. The spark off the bench continued when a Denny Slay II three-pointer cut the Winthrop lead to two. On the next Winthrop possession, a big defensive play from Flowers caused a turnover that led to a Caden Sanchez layup that tied the game at 19 at the under-eight media timeout. Sanchez was fouled on the play and completed the and-one opportunity out of the timeout to give HPU the lead.
High Point kept fighting, Wright scoring seven straight before consecutive buckets from Alex Holt and Flowers put the Purple and White up 34-32 with 2:31 to go in the half. Wright finished the first half with a game-high 14 points while also leading the Panthers with five rebounds and four assists. Childress provided a spark, coming into the game and knocking down a three-pointer to stretch High Point’s lead to five.
Childress didn’t stop there, knocking down a shot from near-half court as time expired in the first to put the Panthers up six at the half. As the shot fell his Panther teammates greeted him enthusiastically at the end of the first half as the buzzer sounded. HPU’s 40-34 lead left the Eagles trailing at half for only the fourth time this season.
Lydell Elmore got the scoring started in the second, scoring the first three points of the half for High Point before Wright got going again, scoring back-to-back buckets. The combo of Elmore and Wright scored HPU’s first 11 points of the second half, helping stretch the Panthers’ lead to 51-44 at the under-16.
The Eagles responded with a 7-2 run out of the timeout to cut the lead to two, but another three from Childress stretched the lead back to five. The Albemarle, N.C. native finished the game with nine points on 3-6 shooting from behind the arc. An and-one play out of the under-12 timeout gave Winthrop its first lead of the half, 57-56, with 10:28 left in the game.
Winthrop stretched its lead to three before Wright completed a three-point play to tie the game up at 59 at the under-eight media timeout. The Eagles scored two quick buckets out of the break before a Wright contested layup cut the High Point deficit back to three.
By the final media timeout of the game, Winthrop stretched its lead to seven, but HPU refused to go away. Wright’s 26th and 27th points of the night cut the lead to five with 1:22 to play before Randleman forced a turnover to put Elmore at the line, where he hit one to make it a four-point game. The Panthers could get no closer than four with a series of Winthrop free throws making it a 76-70 final.
“Again, we played them hard, we were right there, had a three-point game with just seconds to go, so it wasn’t like we were ever out of the game. I thought that was the most positive thing for our players, understanding we can play with the best team in the Big South. I hope we got some confidence there and hopefully that confidence will carry over to us playing better tomorrow and we will find a way to win.” Coach Smith said looking ahead to tomorrow’s rematch.
UP NEXT: High Point and Winthrop will face off again tomorrow for the second half of the two-game set. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. from the Millis Center and will be streaming live on ESPN+.