High Point falls short in Big South title gameBy JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer Sunday, Mar 11, 2012
HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP)—High Point lost its lead first. Then, the Panthers lost their top rebounder, followed by their best scorer.
Not surprisingly, they also lost another Big South championship game.
Top-seeded Liberty pulled away late to beat the second-seeded Panthers 81-73 on Sunday and win the league tournament for the 14th time in 16 years.
High Point led for much of the second half, only to have its top rebounder and scorer foul out in a span of five seconds—and the game got away from the Panthers shortly thereafter.
“We’re still a work in progress,” first-year coach Jennifer Hoover said.
Erin Reynolds scored 27 points, Shamia Brown added 23 and Cheyenne Parker had 12 rebounds for the Panthers (20-12).
Brown’s stickback with 11 1/2 minutes left put High Point up 53-48 before LaKendra Washington’s three-point play on the Flames’ next trip downcourt started the decisive run.
Reagan Miller gave Liberty the lead for good when her drive with 8 1/2 minutes to play made it 57-56. High Point managed only one tie after that, on Reynolds’ 3-pointer with 7:45 left that made it 59-all. Tolu Omotola then followed that with a layup—off Miller’s no-look pass—to put the Flames back on top.
They took firm control of momentum during a series of whistles that began with Liberty up 65-62 with 4:39 left.
Parker and Jasmine Gardner became tangled up while going for a rebound, Gardner fell to the floor and Parker appeared to lean down and say something to her. That prompted a technical foul on Parker—her fifth foul.
“That’s probably just my immaturity,” Parker said. “I just got frustrated with one of the players being extra physical.”
Reynolds then fouled out with 4:34 remaining when she got a hand on Liberty’s Devon Brown.
“I knew that my team could fight and we’d continue to fight,” Shamia Brown said. “That’s all I kept telling them when we huddled. … `We’re still in this. Don’t give up.’ That’s one thing we’re not about. We play until the last second ticks. … Keep attacking and keep playing our ball.”
Perhaps, but High Point still fell to 0-3 in Big South title games, had its six-game winning streak snapped and was denied its first league tournament title since moving to Division I in 1999-2000.
Meanwhile, Liberty coach Carey Green improved to 35-2 in the league tournament. Devon Brown had 24 points and 14 rebounds to help Liberty pull away late. Avery Warley added 14 points and 12 rebounds despite prolonged foul trouble, while Brown was 6 of 23 shooting.
The Flames (24-8) built a 56-39 rebounding advantage and used a late 22-9 run to return to the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence.
Miller finished with 14 points for the Flames, who will bring a seven-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament. They reached the Big South title game for the 15th time in 16 years and improved their title-game record to 14-1 with the only loss coming last year.
Warley, who matched a Big South tournament record with 22 rebounds in a semifinal win against Charleston Southern, was on pace to do it again early for a Flames team that has had an average rebounding margin of plus-24 in the tournament.
But fouls were a problem all game, and for a while the Panthers were able to take advantage before Liberty made most of the plays down the stretch.
“We’re a strong team. We fight at all times,” Devon Brown said. “Avery’s a big contributor on our squad, but sometimes she’s going to go down. … That’s what our bench did today, stepped up big for us and played hard.”
Shamia Brown singlehandedly kept High Point in the game early by scoring 12 of her team’s first 13 points, and then it was Reynolds’ turn to take over. She scored all of her team’s points during a 16-5 run late in the half. She hit a 3-pointer in transition—her third 3 of the spurt—to put High Point up 35-29 with 2 minutes to go before the break.