Site: High Point, N.C. (Millis Center)
Score: High Point 65, USC Upstate 60
Records: High Point (9-14), 7-11 Big South, USC Upstate (5-18), 5-12 Big South
HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University Men’s Basketball team was victorious over USC Upstate 65-60 in the First Round of the 2021 Big South Men’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday (Feb. 27). John-Michael Wright led the way in scoring for HPU with 24 points in the game he also grabbed 10 boards finishing with a double-double. The sophomore scored 13 in the second half alone including some clutch buckets late. Emmanuel Izunabor played a big role on the boards for HPU leading the way with 11 rebounds. Denny Slay II hit a monster jumper to put High Point up three with 24 seconds left to play. Slay’s shot put the Millis Center into a frenzy in what is most likely the last men’s basketball game in the history of the Millis Center.
The High Point Big South First Round win is HPU’s first post-season win since 2016. It’s the Panthers’ first Big South Tournament win in the Millis Center in nearly a decade as HPU defeated Gardner-Webb in 2012.
“I thought our kids gave a great effort today especially to come back after losing the 17-point lead”, Coach Tubby Smith said after the dramatic tournament win. “It showed me our kids have a lot of courage and that we have learned some things because we have lost a few of those games this year the same way. I was really happy for our kids to get this win in post-season play for the first time in five years. We are excited for our guys.”
The Panthers got off to a hot start taking an 18-5 lead within the first 10 minutes. The Panthers’ lead was helped in part by a pair of threes from Bryant Randleman and Wright. High Point was able to extend their lead even further with a fast break slam from Lydell Elmore that got the Millis Center and its limited number of fans rocking. Izunabor had two big blocks in as many possessions to help maintain High Point’s double-digit lead.
After a short run from the Spartans, Denny Slay hit a three to score his first points of the game. Shortly after, Caden Sanchez knocked down a jumper from inside the arc to open his account. The Panthers continued to keep the pressure on as an offensive foul on the Spartans saw Elmore go to the line and make the resulting free throw. However, a 12-point run from the Spartans cut the Panthers lead to five toward the end of the first half. The Panthers were able to add a two-pointer on the way out of the first half courtesy of Elmore. Wright led the Panthers in scoring at the break with 11 points. The Panthers had a four-point lead at the break.
The Spartans came out ready in the second half. The Spartans made a three-pointer that gave them their first lead of the day. High Point continued to battle against the new-found energy of USC Upstate. Flowers got an and one to go, regaining the Panthers’ lead. Wright made a two-pointer to end a scoring drought for the Panthers. Another huge dunk from Elmore produced the loudest roar of the night and momentum seemed to shift in favor of the Panthers. A two-point jumper from the elbow by Izunabor cut the Panthers deficit to one.
As the game began to inch closer to the end, Wright was able to draw a foul from a three-point attempt. Wright made two of his three shots, giving the Panthers the lead back. The lead continued to change hands throughout the closing minutes. However, Wright hit a three-pointer to give the Panthers a one-point lead with 1:29 left in the game. A lead the Panthers would keep to the end. On the following possession, Slay hit a jumper to extend the Panthers’ lead to three as the Spartans called a timeout after the bucket, Slay was greeted by his pumped-up teammates. Wright has fouled again as he claimed a defensive rebound. Wright was able to make both free throws to give HPU a five-point advantage with seven seconds to play. The free throws cemented a Panther win and advancement to the next round of the Big South Tournament.
UP NEXT – HPU will travel to Rock Hill, SC to take on #1 Winthrop at 6:00 PM on Monday, March 1st. That game will be broadcast on ESPN 3.