MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The High Point University men’s basketball team finished its first appearance in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) with an 88-81 loss to No. 1 seed Minnesota in the first round on Tuesday night at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. Junior Devante Wallace led the team with 20 points and redshirt-sophomore John Brown scored 19.
“I thought our kids played really well, we kept it close with two of our best players on the bench in foul trouble,” said HPU head coach Scott Cherry. “We were neck and neck with them and got it within five points with a few minutes to go. We’re just not going to beat a Big Ten team with John Brown and Adam Weary on the bench. Minnesota has a lot of depth and a lot of size. They did a great job to beat us tonight.”
High Point finished with a 16-15 record, its second winning season in a row. The Panthers won the Big South regular season with a 12-4 record to earn the league’s automatic NIT berth. Minnesota improved to 21-13 and will play either St. Mary’s or Utah in the second round.
Brown, the Big South Player of the Year, scored his 19 points and had five rebounds in just 21 minutes. Wallace hit four three-pointers en route to his 20 points and sophomore Lorenzo Cugini scored 16 points and went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.
“Of our five starters tonight, none of them are seniors,” said Cherry. “We started a true freshman point guard, three sophomores and a junior for the last few months of the season. We’re going in the right direction with back-to-back Big South regular season titles and back-to-back postseason appearances. Now we have to take the next step and get to that next tournament.”
Minnesota’s Maverick Ahanmisi came off the bench to score a game-high 21 points, Joey King scored 14 with a game-high seven rebounds and Andre Hollins scored 13 points.
High Point stayed close in the first half until the Gophers finished on a 12-3 spurt to make it 38-29 at halftime. Brown hit the first basket of the game for the Panthers, which was the only time they led. HPU got within a point on dunks by Brown (12-11) and redshirt-freshman Cliff Cornish (17-16). High Point came back to tie it at 26-26 when Wallace hit three free throws with 4:33 left in the first half.
Minnesota scored 12 of the last 15 points in the first half starting with a pair of free throws by Andre Hollins and a three-pointer by Ahanmisi. King’s trey with 26 seconds on the clock was the final basket of the half.
The Gophers stretched their lead to 15 points when Austin Hollins hit two baskets in a row – a three-pointer and a jumper – to make it 47-32 with 17:34 on the clock. It was 60-47 on a jumper by Ahanmisi before HPU went on an 8-0 run, including two three-shot fouls on Wallace and senior Derrell Edwards that resulted in six-straight free throws. That made it 60-55 with 8:11 to go.
Minnesota got its lead back to double-digits before the Panthers cut it back again. A one-handed alley-oop from Edwards to Brown made it 68-61. A three-pointer from the corner by Weary and a pair of free throws from Brown made it six (73-67) with 3:06 on the clock. That was the closest the Panthers would get.
High Point outrebounded Minnesota, 31-30, and hit 12 three-pointers. The Golden Gophers shot 49.1 percent (26-for-53) from the floor and hit 30-of-36 free throws. They scored 36 points in the paint to HPU’s 18.