LEXINGTON, Va. — The High Point University men’s basketball team beat VMI, 78-67, to clinch the Big South North Division title and No. 1 North seed in the Big South Tournament on Tuesday night at Cameron Hall in Lexington, Va. It’s High Point’s first Big South basketball championship since joining the league in 1999-2000.
The Panthers overcame a 13-point first-half deficit to finish the first half on a 15-4 run and outscore VMI 52-39 in the second half.
“This was a positive experience for our guys to start 1-for-16 on field goals and finish 26-for-39 with 23 assists on 27 field goals,” said HPU head coach Scott Cherry. “They went through a tough stretch in the first half but kept battling to get a good win on the road. It was awesome seeing all of those HPU fans come to the game and I’m glad we could give them a win.”
The Panthers’ seventh win in a row improved the team’s record to 16-10 overall and 11-3 in Big South games. The division championship is the team’s first championship of any kind since moving up to Div. I and joining the Big South in 1999-2000. HPU’s seven game-winning streak is the team’s longest since 2006-07 and the 11 league wins match 2006-07 as most in program history. VMI fell to 11-14 overall and 6-7 in the Big South.
High Point was led by redshirt-freshman John Brown, who went off for 21 points and nine rebounds. He shot 6-for-7 from the floor in the second half. Junior guard Derrell Edwards posted 10 assists along with eight points in the game. Junior Dejuan McGaughy hit three three-pointers and scored 12 points and freshman Adam Weary scored 11 points.
VMI was led by senior Stan Okoye, who scored a game-high 22 points with six rebounds, including 15 points in the second half. D.J. Covington scored 18 points with eight rebounds and guard Brian Brown scored 11 points with three treys.
The Panthers finished the first half on a 15-4 run to dig themselves out of an early deficit and trailed the Keydets 28-26 at halftime. When VMI’s Brown hit a three-pointer with 4:44 left, High Point trailed 24-11. HPU reeled off stretches of 7-0 and 5-0 in the last four minutes of the first half. HPU shot 31.0 percent in the first half and VMI shot 37.9 percent.
The second half started a lot faster and the Panthers gained their first lead (33-32) when McGaughy hit a three-pointer with 18:29 on the clock. Edwards got a steal on VMI’s next possession and the Panthers turned it into a quick three by Weary, prompting a Keydet timeout with 18:01 left.
High Point used that spark to grow its lead to 13 (51-38) when freshman forward Lorenzo Cugini hit back-to-back three pointers. The game didn’t get out of hand, however, as VMI’s Covington scored his team’s next 10 points. He kept his team within 10 (58-48) with a second-chance layup with 9:24 to play but the Panthers had scored seven points in the same span.
An alley-oop from Weary to Law followed by a fast-break layup by Weary put the Panthers on top by 13 (62-49) but VMI wouldn’t rest. Dorian Albritton hit a three-pointer and then it was Okoye’s turn to try to put his team on his back.
Down 64-52, Okoye banked a three-pointer off the glass and hit another from the right side to get his team within six. HPU’s Devante Wallace found Edwards open for a jumper before an Okoye putback made it 66-60, which was the closest VMI would get. McGaughy hit a three-pointer before Okoye came in for a dunk that gave him 10 VMI points in a row.
The Panthers pulled away in the closing minutes as HPU’s Brown got a steal that turned into a three-point play, then High Point hit its next six free throws.
The Panthers have assured themselves their first above-.500 season since going 17-14 in 2007-08. The win was High Point’s first at Cameron Hall since March 1, 2008. Edwards was the first HPU player to get 10 assists since David Singleton had 11 against VMI on Jan. 24, 2009.
After three-straight road games, the Panthers are back home on Saturday when they host Morgan State in an ESPN BracketBuster game at the Millis Center at 7 p.m. It’s the first-ever meeting between the two schools.