MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Kaylah Keys scored 23 points as top-seeded High Point held off a determined UNC Asheville comeback to slip past the Bulldogs, 79-69 in the quarterfinals of the Big South Conference Tournament Thursday afternoon at the HTC Center on the campus of Coastal Carolina.
Asheville ended the season with an 11-20 record. The Bulldogs were led by Shonese Jones with 14 points, while Tianna Knuckles came off the bench with 12 points. KJ Weaver finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Brittany Gwyn grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds.
High Point received a double-double from Stacia Robertson with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Lindsay Puckett finished with 12 points.
The Bulldogs trailed 48-29 at halftime and 59-39 at the 14:35 mark of the second half. Asheville went on a 20-6 run over the next eight minutes to close to 65-59 on a jumper from Gwyn at the 6:45 mark.
But Asheville could get no closer. The Bulldogs hurt themselves with a tough day at the free throw line as they went 14-of-28, including a 9-of-18 effort in the second half. Asheville missed two front ends of one-and-ones and had two free throws wiped out due to lane violations.
“I’m really proud of this team for battling back the way they did,” stated second-year coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick. “We’ve made a lot of progress this year but we would have liked to have won one more game today.
“When you’re coming back like we were, you can’t shoot 50 percent from the free throw line,” added Kirkpatrick. “We missed too many free throws had too many turnovers to beat a great team like High Point.”
Asheville committed 24 turnovers in the game, 14 in the first half. High Point (21-9) outscored the Bulldogs, 27-11 on points off turnovers.
The Blue & White held a 46-39 rebounding advantage over the Panthers. Asheville had 16 offensive rebounds to seven for High Point. The Bulldogs held a 19-6 edge on second-chance points in the contest.
Asheville led 6-2 early in the game before Keys took over the game. The Big South Rookie of the Year triggered a 22-4 run to race to a 24-10 lead. Keys scored 10 points during the run and had two steals.
The Bulldogs were able to hang in and keep it close as Knuckles scored on a lay-up at the 2:43 mark to narrow the lead to 37-26.
However, High Point ended the half on a flourish with 11 straight points to roar to a 48-26 lead. Jada Brayboy knocked down a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded for the Bulldogs to narrow the lead to 48-29.
Asheville committed 14 turnovers in the opening half and allowed High Point to outscore the Bulldogs, 23-5 on points off turnovers. Keys had 19 points in the first half and 7-of-9 from the field.
“We got away from the game-plan in the first half, and High Point forced a lot of turnovers,” commented Kirkpatrick. “In the second half, we did a much better job and played a lot better. If we make a few more free throws, we could have really made things interesting at the end.”