HPU men’s basketball drops hard-fought game to Asheville in BSC semis

• Miles Bowman Jr. posted career highs in points (23), rebounds (16) and free throws made (11)
• HPU cut a 13-point halftime deficit to four (69-65) with three minutes to play
• The Panthers will play in the 2016 NIT; the selection show will be March 13 at 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

BUIES CREEK, N.C. – The High Point University men’s basketball team (21-9) displayed a tremendous amount of heart, grit and toughness in its Big South semifinal game, but eventually fell to UNC Asheville Saturday inside Gore Arena.

Missing Big South Player of the Year/Defensive Player of the Year John Brown and All-Big South Second Team pick/Lou Henson National Player of the Week Adam Weary, the Panthers pulled together to push a very good Asheville team to the brink and give itself a chance late to reach the Big South final.

HPU trailed 39-26 at the half, but stormed back to get within four (69-65) with 2:17 to play. But the Bulldogs made some big baskets down the stretch to advance to Sunday’s championship game.

High Point’s season will continue in the National Invitation Tournament, marking the program’s second NIT appearance in the last three seasons.

“We had some chances in the second half to cut the lead to one possession, but it just wasn’t meant to be,” head coach Scott Cherry said. “Our guys fought and fought and played with so much heart. I’m so proud of their effort and the things they’ve done this year. It’s hard when you lose such big parts of your team so late in the season. But we’ve had guys step up all year long. I’m excited about the opportunity for this group to play in the NIT.”

Redshirt-junior Miles Bowman Jr. played the game of his career Saturday, pouring in a career-best 23 points to go along with a monster 16 rebounds in 28 minutes. The 16 rebounds marked the most grabbed by a Panther since John Brown pulled down 16 vs. Chattanooga during his freshman campaign (Dec. 28, 2012).

Bowman Jr. also made all 11 of his free throw attempts and was 6-of-8 from the field. There is a lot to look forward to as Bowman continues to develop during the 2016 NIT and his redshirt-senior season in 2016-17.

In addition to Bowman’s performance, sophomore Austin White reached double figures for the second-straight game, posting 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting (2-4 3pt FG). Freshman Andre Fox added 11 points and was 6-of-6 from the line, while junior Anthony Lindauer registered seven points, six rebounds a career-best four steals and three assists.

HPU shot just 33.3 percent (9-27) in the first half, but rebounded with a 40.7 percent (11-27) mark during the team’s second half comeback. The Panthers were +7 (39-32) on the glass against one of the league’s best rebounding teams, but Asheville’s patented pressure defense forced an uncharacteristic 20 HPU turnovers that led to 18 Asheville points. HPU entered the week as one of the top-25 teams in the nation in fewest turnovers/contest.

Bolstered by some powerful early play from Bowman, HPU scored seven of the first nine points of the game and led 10-5 after a 3-pointer from Lindauer. The Bulldogs answered back to tie the score at 14, but HPU went back up one (20-19) on a floater from Fox with 8:37 to go in the half.

From there, the Bulldogs ramped up their defense, holding the Panthers to just one field goal over the final 8:36. The resulting 20-6 run gave UNC Asheville a 39-26 lead at the break.

HPU forgot that stretch quickly, as the Panthers rocketed out of the second half with an 8-1 run to pull back within six (40-34). The Panthers extended the run to 15-6 to pull within four (45-41) with 14:09 to go in the stanza.

From there, the Bulldogs hit a triple and a jumper to build the lead back to nine (50-41) and UNCA extended the edge to 12 (61-49) with 8:09 remaining.

But HPU kept the fight coming, as a pair of perfect free throw trips from Bowman and a jumper by Lindauer moved the Purple & White back within six (61-55) with 6:38 to go.

Asheville went back up 69-60, but a 3-pointer from Fox and lay-in from Bowman made it 69-65 with under three minutes to play. The Bulldogs posted 11 of the game’s final 15 points to earn the semifinal victory.

HPU now has close to two weeks to practice in preparation for the upcoming National Invitation Tournament. The NIT selection show is scheduled for Sunday, March 13 at 8:30 p.m. on ESPNU.