HONOLULU – The High Point University men's basketball team is 3-0 for the first time in the Division I era after rocketing past Hawai'i 62-54 on Tuesday morning to win the Rainbow Classic title.
The back-and-forth game proved to be a worthy inclusion in ESPN's 24-hour College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. The Panthers trailed by nine (51-42) with less than seven minutes to play, but put together a meticulous 20-3 run down the stretch to race to a comeback victory in the program's first appearance on ESPN2 since 2004. In all, the Panthers outscored the Rainbow Warriors 35-23 in the second half and made big shots and free throws when they counted most down the stretch.
"The game plan was excellent tonight. Beating a good Hawai'i basketball team on their home floor is great for our program," head coach Scott Cherry said. "To start 3-0 for the first time in the Division I history of our program is a tremendous accomplishment. It's a testament to our kids."
Redshirt-junior John Brown earned Rainbow Classic MVP honors after averaging 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and shooting 59.3 percent from the floor during the event. On Tuesday, Brown led all scorers with 19 points and knocked down 9-of-18 field goal attempts.
Brown was one of three Panthers in double figures against Hawai'i (2-1), as sophomore Tarique Thompson notched 13 points and grabbed four rebounds, while junior Adam Weary chipped in 10 points (4-6 FG), five rebounds and three assists. Thompson made all seven of his attempts from the free throw line, including a huge 6-for-6 performance in the second half.
HPU shot 37.5 percent from the field (21-56) while limiting Hawaii to just a 31.4 percent clip. The Purple & White were out-shot from the free-throw line, 14-5, in the first half, but the Panthers made 14-of-17 (.824) from the charity stripe in the decisive second half while Hawai'I connected on just 6-of-11 attempts (.545). HPU also held advantages in assists (13-5) and rebounds (37-35) in the game.
The Panthers jumped out to an 11-5 lead behind five early points from Adam Weary, before UH responded with a 6-0 run to move ahead 12-11. The Panthers went up 16-12 on a 3-pointer from freshman Austin White, but the Rainbow Warriors answered with a 9-0 run to build a 21-16 lead with 9:04 to go in the first half.
HPU cut the UH lead to two (25-23) on a jumper from Brown, but the 'Bows used a 6-0 run to go up by eight (31-23) with 2:11 to play in the half. From there, HPU posted the final four points of the half to enter the break trailing, 31-27.
The Panthers held advantages in shooting percentage (37.0-30.0) and assists (7-3) in the half but UH was +9 at the free throw line in the stanza. Brown led the Panthers with 10 points (5-9 FG) In the half.
HPU opened the second half on an 8-1 run to take a 37-32 lead at the 15:45 mark of the stanza. The surge included two baskets each from Brown and redshirt-senior Brian Richardson. But the Rainbow Warriors would quickly answer with 16-2 run over the next seven minutes to build a 48-39 advantage with 8:07 to play in the game. HPU was held to just one field goal during the stretch.
Hawaii led 51-42 with 6:40 to go, but from there, the Panthers began to mount their furious comeback. After Thompson made four critical free throws to move HPU within five (51-46) at the 5:25 mark, a jumper from Brown and 3-pointer from senior Devante Wallace tied the game at 51-51 with 3:55 to go.
A put-back, 3-point play from Weary pushed HPU in front by three (56-53) with 1:41 remaining, and the Rainbow Warriors could not move any closer for the remainder of the game, as the Panthers made 6-of-8 free throws in the closing minutes to complete the 20-3 run and head home to High Point with the Rainbow Classic trophy.
Wallace grabbed a game-high eight rebounds Tuesday and dished out three assists. He was named to the Rainbow Classic all-tournament team after averaging 15.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists during the three games in Honolulu.
HPU continues its season-opening road swing with a matchup at Richmond (1-0) on Saturday, Nov 22 (1 p.m.) inside the Robins Center in Richmond, Va.