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HPU men extend nation's longest winning streak

Feb. 5—HIGH POINT — High Point University didn't make things easy for itself. But it came through in the clutch to extend the nation's longest winning streak.

The Panthers lost a double-digit lead in the second half and trailed inside the final three minutes of the game. But they made key plays — most notably from Titas Sargiunas and Kezza Giffa — to pull out a 78-68 win in Big South Conference men's basketball Saturday in front of another big crowd in the Qubein Center.

High Point (20-4 overall, 9-0 conference) won its 12th game in a row — a program record in the Division I era — and holds the country's longest streak among Division I teams. It also remained two games ahead of UNC Asheville atop the conference standings.

"We found a way to win," Panthers coach Alan Huss said. "It definitely wasn't our prettiest effort of the year. But we're thrilled we came out and got our 20th win. We understand they're never easy, and Presbyterian proved that tonight.

"In collegiate basketball — especially in 2024 and especially when we have three true freshmen out there in critical minutes — the margin for error is just smaller. Those guys are learning in front of our eyes.

"Teams that do special things have to find ways to win those games. And thus far this season, once we got past the first 10 or 12 days of the season, we've found ways to do that."

High Point used an 11-1 run late in the first half to lead by 10 and carried a 34-24 lead into halftime. It got its lead to 12 in the opening minutes of the second, but the Blue Hose (10-14, 2-7) quickly closed the gap — pulling within two with just under 10 minutes left in the game.

The Panthers stayed just ahead until Presbyterian evened the score twice inside the final five minutes and took a two-point lead with 2:32 left. But High Point answered with scores on its final seven possessions — including a pair of clutch baskets by Sargiunas — to regain its footing.

Sargiunas first drained a 3-pointer that gave the Panthers a three-point lead with 1:50 left. The play was set up by a pair of outstanding defensive plays by Duke Miles, who made a steal and found Sargiunas in the right corner. Sargiunas then scored on a driving layup and foul to put High Point up four with 1:04 left.

"The first play, the credit goes to Duke for trusting me on that play," said Sargiunas, a freshman guard from Lithuania. "He's the team leader and usually he has the ball in those moments. So, thanks to him. And the next play, I just played the game, made a play and it went in," he said with a laugh.

"It's really an awesome feeling. But you still have to stay humble. Nothing's happened yet — just focus on the next game."

The Panthers made all 10 of their free throws in the final minute and finished with a 33-18 advantage from the foul line for the game — making seven more than the Blue Hose took.

Giffa led the way with 26 points, making 22 of 24 from the foul line, while Miles added 18 points. Sargiunas finished with 13 points and Juslin Bodo Bodo chipped in nine points and 14 rebounds. Marquis Barnett had 23 points for Presbyterian.

High Point — which, for the second straight game, totaled more than 5,000 fans — will play its next two games on the road before returning home Wednesday, Feb. 14, against USC Upstate. The Panthers will first take on second-place UNC Asheville on Wednesday and third-place Gardner-Webb on Saturday.

"This left a little bit of a bad taste in our mouth — we wanted to be playing a little better heading into, without a doubt, the most difficult stretch on our schedule," Huss said. "We would've liked to play better. But hopefully this will humble us and get us back to where we're true to our processes and trying to do the little things that'll be necessary for us to compete in those two games."