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Shorthanded Panthers defeat Charleston Southern

Jan. 22—HIGH POINT — High Point University found a way to win in a tight spot.

The Panthers, without their top scorer, made pivotal plays over the final four minutes to turn back Charleston Southern 86-79 in Big South Conference men's basketball Saturday night in front of a packed house in the Qubein Center.

"I'm proud of our guys to come out there and fight like we did," High Point coach Alan Huss said. "We weren't perfect tonight by any stretch of the imagination. But to come out and fight like we did — down a man and we short-prepped without him — that was really a testament to our guys' character and their sticktoitiveness."

Duke Miles, one of the Panthers' top offensive threats, did not play — he sat at the end of the bench in street clothes with a boot on his foot. The injury came during Wednesday's game at Presbyterian and he'll be day-to-day. But the Panthers, the league's last undefeated team, stepped up in his stead.

Kezza Giffa had 29 points and five assists to lead High Point (16-4 overall, 5-0 conference), which won its first five conference games for the first time since 2015-16. Kimani Hamilton added 26 points — a career high — and nine rebounds, and Abdoulaye Thiam chipped in 16 points.

"It was executing our plays," said Giffa, a junior guard. "Just trying to share the ball — I have faith in my team — and get the win. Our brother Duke wasn't there and Coach said during preparation that everyone needs to give a little more. And that's what we tried to do."

The Panthers, who shot 41% against Charleston Southern's 45%, led by 17 in the first half but trailed by two early in the second. The teams were tied with four minutes to go. But High Point — sparked by Giffa, Hamilton and Thiam in the final minutes — closed the game on an 11-4 run to secure its eighth straight win.

Giffa converted a three-point play with 3:58 left to regain the lead, and Hamilton made a reverse layup with 3:15 left to extend the advantage to five. Thiam sank a 3 with 2:15 left to lead by 6. Then Hamilton, following two offensive rebounds, drilled a 3 to push the lead to seven with 48 seconds left.

"It's a good feeling," said Giffa, whom Huss praised for his hard work since joining the program as a transfer prior to the season. "We worked a lot, worked hard and executed."

The Panthers outscored the Buccaneers (6-12, 2-3) by a 27-12 margin over the middle chunk of the first half to lead by 17 and took a 47-38 lead into halftime. But Charleston Southern, led by Taje Kelly and RJ Johnson with 25 points each, answered with 13 straight to lead by one with 14:43 left in the game.

The teams remained close into the final minutes — until High Point made winning plays down the stretch. The Panthers will visit USC Upstate on Wednesday and Winthrop on Saturday before returning home Thursday, Feb. 1, against Longwood — a game that will be televised on ESPNU.

"I thought the home crowd just keeps getting better," Huss said. "It's fun to watch the students get involved. It's fun to watch the season-ticket holders get involved. It's always fun playing in front of a crowd. We played the other night (at Presbyterian) in front of maybe a 130 people.

"It was awesome because Kezza got to meet some guys from France. It was such a small crowd — they waited for him afterward," he added with a smile. "But you see that and you're so appreciative of what we have and the way people turn out, the way our students turn out. It's fun."

WOMEN'S GAME

CHARLESTON, S.C. — High Point University raced past Charleston Southern 74-57 in Big South Conference women's basketball Saturday at Charleston Southern.

Lauren Bevis scored 16 points, making four 3-pointers, for the Panthers (9-9 overall, 4-1 conference), who have won four in a row and moved into a tie with USC Upstate and Radford atop the conference standings.

Callie Scheier added a season-high 13 points while Shakira Baskerville, who teamed with Scheier at West Forsyth, contributed with nine points and a career-high eight rebounds as High Point made 13 3s for the game.

The Panthers scored the final 11 points of the first quarter to lead by nine, stretched their advantage to 11 points in the second before taking a 35-24 lead into halftime. High Point led by double digits throughout the second half, its cushion peaking at 23.

The Panthers will play their next two at home — Wednesday against USC Upstate and Saturday against Winthrop before visiting Longwood on Wednesday, Jan. 31.