• Redshirt-senior Stacia Robertson led the Panthers with 24 points and eight rebounds. It was her 18th consecutive game scoring in double figures.
• The Panthers have their first back-to-back 20-win seasons in the Division I era.
• High Point has earned a spot in Sunday’s conference championship game for the second straight season. This time it will take on No. 1 Liberty at 5 p.m.
CONWAY, S.C. – The High Point University women’s basketball team got a performance worthy of the Big South Player of the Year name from redshirt-senior Stacia Robertson to earn a 56-53 win over Gardner-Webb University in the HTC Center on Saturday.
The Panthers (20-11) trailed by seven at the half, but took a lead late in the second half only to see the Runnin’ Bulldogs (15-17) regain the lead with 1:49 to play at 53-52. However, HPU got a steal from sophomore Kaylah Keys and a block by Robertson in the final minute defensively, while Keys and redshirt-senior Lindsay Puckett hit four free throws to secure the win.
“What a game. I give all the credit to Gardner-Webb, they played extremely hard and well,” head coach DeUnna Hendrix said. “We have a senior class that does not want to go home any time soon and that really showed in the second half.”
The Purple & White got 24 points, eight rebounds, five steals and three blocks from Robertson to net a spot in the Big South Championship against No. 1 Liberty on Sunday at 5 p.m.
“[Robertson] makes me look like a brilliant coach,” Hendrix said of the Grand Island, Neb. native. “She gets so much attention and the only way we can get her the ball sometimes is in the high post so it’s harder to double. But then she went to the block and worked from there.”
Robertson led a senior class that combined for 41 of the team’s 56 points (73 percent). Keys was second on the team in scoring with 10 points, including the game-winning free throws with 19 seconds remaining. It is just the second time this season the Panthers won with fewer than three players scoring in double figures. The other time was against GWU on Jan. 20.
Puckett finished with seven points and seven rebounds and senior Ashante Richard netted eight points, four assists and three steals.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs controlled the boards (27-14) to build their seven-point halftime lead. But, HPU closed the gap and finished with a minus-5 (44-39) margin. Both teams made 20 shots from the floor with GWU attempting 64 (31 percent) and HPU taking 52 (39 percent). Meanwhile, HPU went 2-of-10 and GWU went 3-of-20 from beyond the arc.
Neither team was able to get a basket until freshman Alexus Hill connected on a layup to give GWU a 2-0 lead at 17:56. Puckett responded with a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper to make it 5-2 in HPU’s favor (17:19). The Runnin’ Bulldogs bounced back and knotted the score at 5-all with 16:20 left in the opening half.
HPU, then, built a 10-5 lead at the 14:20 mark. However, GWU responded with an 11-0 run, highlighted by a triple from sophomore Kiera Currie and took a 16-10 advantage with 9:35 until the break. Despite Robertson’s best efforts for HPU, the Runnin’ Bulldogs went to work on the inside and built a 22-14 lead with 5:26 to play.
The Panthers were able to cut the GWU lead to four on multiple occasions, but couldn’t get any closer as the Runnin’ Bulldogs took a 29-22 lead at the break. Neither team shot well in the first half as HPU shot 32 percent (8-of-25) and GWU hit 38 percent (13-of-34).
Robertson and Richard got quick baskets to pull the Purple & White within three at 29-26 (19:04). Dunovant had the response for GWU as she drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing. The Runnin’ Bulldogs’ lead grew to eight (36-28, 17:17) when Hill hit another 3-pointer from the same spot on the right wing.
Once again the Robertson and the Panthers pulled back within four at 38-34, but GWU had the answer yet again. Parker and redshirt-freshman Tierra Huntsman got layups to push the lead back to eight (42-34, 13:02).
A 3-pointer by sophomore Maja Michalska and a driving layup by Robertson made it a three-point game before Huntsman hit two free throws (44-39, 11:09). Robertson got another layup and sophomore Kaylah Keys hit a layup as the Panthers pulled within one point at 44-43 with 9:40 left to play. Dunovant, then, gave the Runnin’ Bulldogs some breathing room and slowed a 9-2 HPU run with a pair of free throws (46-43, 9:33).
Brown added a jumper to make it a five-point lead before five straight points from Robertson evened the score at 48-48 with 8:14 to go. Keys gave the Panthers a 50-48 lead with a layup in transition with 6:15 on the clock.
Dunovant bounced right back for the Runnin’ Bulldogs with two free throws (50-50, 5:24). However, Keys came right back with another layup as HPU regained the lead at 52-50 with 5:06 to go.
Neither team was able to score for nearly two minutes before Dunovant split a pair from the charity stripe (52-51, 3:19). Currie put the Runnin’ Bulldogs on top with a steal and a layup with 1:49 to play. That layup was the final made basket of the game as the Panthers went 4-of-4 from the line in the final 18 seconds to give HPU the 56-53 victory.
High Point limited Gardner-Webb to 23 percent (7-of-30) shooting in the second half while connecting on 44.4 percent (12-of-27) of their own shots. The Panthers forced the Runnin’ Bulldogs into missing 19 of their final 21 shots down the stretch.