• Sophomore Kaylah Keys came up huge scoring 10 of her game-high 24 points during a crucial 16-4 run that allowed HPU to pull away in the second half.
• High Point improved to 8-1 in conference play and moved into a tie with Liberty for first place in the Big South.
• The win extends the Panthers’ home winning streak to 14 games, which is the second longest in the program’s Division I era.
HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University women’s basketball team used a second half surge to earn a 72-57 triumph over Gardner-Webb in the Millis Center on Tuesday.
The Panthers (12-6, 8-1) and the Runnin’ Bulldogs (7-12, 3-7) found themselves tied 24-24 at the half, but a 16-4 run midway through the second frame allowed HPU to pull away for the win. It marked the program’s 14th straight win at home. The victory, coupled with Liberty’s loss to Winthrop tonight, also put HPU in a tie with the Flames at the top the Big South standings.
“It was definitely a battle with a lot of bumps and bruises,” head coach DeUnna Hendrix said of the physicality of the game. “They out-toughed us in the first half, but we responded in the second half.”
Sophomore Kaylah Keys embodied the change Hendrix saw in her team’s play in the second half. The guard stepped up and took control of the game after Hendrix’s halftime encouragement.
“I think she believes in me more than I believe in myself sometimes,” Keys said of her coach. “I had the mentality in the second half that we needed an energy boost and a lot of us brought that [after halftime].”
Keys responded with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting overall including a perfect 4-of-4 half from beyond the arc. She finished with 24 points, six rebounds and three assists and scored 10 of the team’s 16 points in the decisive 16-4 run.
“I think we got in attack mode in the second half,” Hendrix said of the team’s offensive explosion after the break. “We were really passive in the first half and were worrying about what they were doing defensively when we needed to just worry about what we were doing offensively.”
Redshirt-senior Stacia Robertson had another well-rounded night adding 13 points, nine rebounds, five blocks, four steals and three assists. Robertson had help inside from senior Latrice Phelps and sophomore DeAnneisha Jackson as the pair combined for 14 points and 13 rebounds.
High Point shot 19-of-30 (63 percent) in the second half and finished with a 48-percent shooting night. GWU won the rebounding battle by nine and attempted 12 more shots than the Panthers, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs could only hit 30 percent of their shots against the Purple & White defense.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs jumped out to a 9-0 lead as the Panthers missed their first five shots. Keys got HPU on the board with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, but a lay in by Alicia Quinn and a triple by Mayhana Dunovant made it 14-3 with 14:42 to play in the half. The Purple & White ramped up their defensive intensity and held Gardner-Webb scoreless for the next six minutes. During the stretch, a 3-point play from Robertson keyed an 8-0 run that allowed HPU to pull within five at 14-11 with 8:10 left until the break.
After Gardner-Webb pulled back ahead by five, freshman Kat Harris went coast-to-coast for a steal and a layup to pull HPU within three (18-15, 4:37). The teams traded baskets before a free throw by Keys and a driving layup by Robertson with 26 seconds left sent the game to the break tied at 24-24. The Panthers’ defense forced 11 turnovers and held GWU to 29 percent shooting, but the Purple & White were outrebounded 28-16 and shot 31 percent in the half.
HPU got its first lead of the night as Keys hit a floater in the lane to make it 28-26 with 18:30 to play. The Runnin’ Bulldogs responded with a 3-point play by Jessica Heilig to re-take the lead (29-28, 18:16). The lead went back and forth before Keys stepped back and drilled a long-range trifecta to give HPU a 35-33 lead with 16:20 remaining.
From there the Panthers went on an 16-4 run over the next 4:40 – with 10 of the points coming from Keys – to build an 11-point lead (48-37, 10:10).
Gardner-Webb responded well and cut the lead back to eight, but the Purple & White scored the next 10 points, featuring back-to-back 3-pointers from Harris and Keys, to take an 18-point advantage (60-42, 6:02). The Runnin’ Bulldogs were able to pull within 10 points after Heilig converted two free throws (64-54, 2:05). However, Richard had the answer hitting a transition jumper before finding Michalska for a layup to make it 68-52 with 1:42 remaining. GWU was never able to get that close again as HPU pulled away for a 72-57 win.
The Panthers travel north to Radford, Va. on Saturday for a showdown with the Highlanders at 2 p.m. The team will return to the Millis Center for two straight home games against Coastal Carolina (Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.) and Liberty (Jan. 31 at 2 p.m.).