IRVINE, Calif. — The High Point University men’s basketball team battled back from a double-digit deficit in the second half to take the lead before UC Irvine pulled back ahead for an 80-71 win in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament on Wednesday night at Crawford Court in Irvine, Calif. Freshman Adam Weary scored 18 points to lead HPU and graduate student Allan Chaney had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“This was a great year for us, obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted with these last two losses, but we are really close to getting our goals,” said HPU head coach Scott Cherry. “We had it within a point late but we couldn’t get all the stops we needed and they made big shots.”
“Now we’ve got to take the next step as a program. With almost all of these guys coming back, we’ve got to win the conference tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament next season.”
Weary also grabbed four rebounds and had three assists along with his 18 points. Chaney scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half. Redshirt-senior Corey Law scored 11 points with nine rebounds and Devante Wallace scored nine points on three three-pointers, his only three shots of the night.
UC Irvine sophomore Will Davis II went off for 32 points with 14 rebounds. Senior Daman Starring and junior Chris McNealy each scored 11 points. Starring went 3-for-4 and McNealy went 2-for-3 from three-point range.
UC Irvine took a 10-point lead (41-31) when Davis hit a jumper with 19:08 left in the game. The Anteaters led by 10 two more times, the last on a three-pointer by McNealy that made it 46-36 with 16:45 left.
A three-pointer in the corner by Wallace made it 46-39 and, five minutes later, the Panthers had cut it to three points when McGaughy hit a baseline layup and Weary drove through the paint for a layup to make it 49-46. The Panthers’ momentum continued and HPU took its only lead of the second half when Weary hit a layup and senior Branimir Mikulic hit a jumper off the glass to make it 53-52 Panthers.
Starring hit a three-pointer with 8:55 on the clock and the teams went blow-for-blow for the next four minutes. High Point drew the game within a point twice. Down 63-59, Wallace hit a three-pointer from the left side. McNeely hit a three, then Wallace hit another to make it 66-65 with 4:23 to go. McNeely hit a one-handed jumper that started a 6-0 run for the Anteaters, which was capped by a three-point play by Davis.
High Point continued to challenge in the closing minutes and got within five (74-69) when Chaney hit a third-chance basket with 1:07 to play. A Davis dunk on the other end kept the Anteaters far enough ahead in the last minute en route to the 80-71 result.
Early in the game, High Point led 6-2, but it was UC Irvine that led most of the first half. Law hit two free throws to give HPU a 17-16 lead but Davis followed with two shots in a row – a short-range jumper and a dunk – that put UCI ahead for the rest of the half. After a Dejuan McGaughy layup got HPU within one (22-21), Davis took over again, hitting the next three field goals to make it 28-21. The Anteaters led 37-29 at halftime.
High Point finished its season 17-14 overall while UC Irvine improved to 21-15.
The Panthers went 12-4 in Big South play this season, winning the conference’s North Division title and setting a team record for Big South wins. It was HPU’s first Big South title in men’s basketball and first postseason appearance since moving up to NCAA Div. I in 1999-2000. High Point returns 11 players who accounted for 79 percent of scoring and 63 percent of rebounding for the 2013-14 season.