CONWAY, S.C. — The High Point University men’s basketball team came back from a 19-point deficit to get within a point in the last minute, but the Panthers couldn’t get a shot off in the closing seconds and took a 61-60 loss to Liberty in the Big South Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night at the HTC Center in Conway, S.C.
The Panthers had trailed, 41-22, in the beginning of the second half before coming back within a point in the last minute of the game.
“I’m just proud of my team, everybody in our locker room, for the way they believed the whole way that they could win,” said HPU head coach Scott Cherry. “These guys weren’t ready to pack it up, they kept fighting. The guys are crushed, I’m crushed. We wanted to win of course, but this was still a great season. There’s a lot to be proud of.”
Graduate student Allan Chaney led High Point with 17 points and nine rebounds. Junior point guard Dejuan McGaughy scored 13 points, all in the second half, to key the Panthers’ comeback run. Redshirt-senior Corey Law had nine points and eight rebound and freshman guard Adam Weary scored nine points with five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Three players keyed the victory for Liberty. Junior guard Davon Marshall scored 16 points, including four three-pointers. Tavares Speaks scored 17 points with five rebounds and John Caleb Sanders scored 12 points with five assists.
High Point fell to 17-13 overall while Liberty improved to 13-20. High Point went 13-6 in its last 19 games and won the Big South North Division title, the Panthers’ first conference championship since moving up to NCAA Div. I in 1999-2000. The Flames advanced to the Big South Semifinals, where they will face Gardner-Webb on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Marshall opened second-half scoring with a jumper, giving the Flames their largest lead of the game, 19 points (41-22), before McGaughy hit a three-pointer off the glass. Liberty led by 18 (43-25) before High Point went on its first major run.
Chaney’s second-chance layup started a 12-2 spurt that closed the gap to 45-35 with 12:40 remaining. Liberty still led by eight (50-42) when Speaks hit a pair of free throws with 7:45 remaining and High Point went on an 8-2 run. Weary faked a pass and went to the hoop, hitting the layup and drawing a foul for a three-point play that made it 52-50 with 4:06 on the clock.
With its lead down to two points, Liberty hit four free throws in a row followed by another Marshall trey that made it 59-50 with under three minutes to play. McGaughy sparked the Panthers’ final stand with a three-point play. Freshman guard Haiishen McIntyre drew a charge on the next play, which led to a McGaughy floater. Just under a minute later, High Point had closed the gap to three (61-58) when Chaney grabbed the rebound of a missed free throw and laid it in.
After a timeout, Liberty’s Marshall missed a three, Weary grabbed the rebound and raced it to the other end. He dished to freshman Lorenzo Cugini, who hit a layup that made it 61-60 with 40 seconds left. The Flames missed their next two shots and the Panthers got the ball with 4.5 seconds on the clock, but were unable to get a final shot off.
The Panthers fell into a hole right away as Liberty scored the first nine points of the game. The Flames shot 56.0 percent while HPU shot 22.2 percent in the first half, leading to a 39-22 score at halftime. The Panthers were within eight (30-22) when Law hit two free throws but the Flames hit the last four shots of the half, including a three-pointer by Marshall.
High Point forced 18 Liberty turnovers but the Panthers didn’t help themselves, shooting 69.2 percent (18-for-26) from the free-throw line.
High Point is 8-4 all-time in its first game of the Big South Tournament and 7-5 all-time in quarterfinal games. The Big South Tournament continues with semifinals beginning at noon on Saturday and the championship game at noon on Sunday.