By Noah Stern
After almost a year-long hiatus from competition, both basketball teams at High Point University are now playing and looking to avenge some disappointing endings to their 2019-2020 seasons. The women’s team ended with a 16-13 record last year and were riding high on a five-game winning streak to close out the season.
Unfortunately, they were unable to make a run for a championship, due to COVID-19 and the resulting cancellation of the Big South tournament. The men’s team ended last year with a dreadful 9-23 record and were eliminated with a first-round exit in the Big South tournament. Both teams are looking to rebound this year after subpar finishes to their seasons last year.
The women’s team started their season at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a 95-70 loss and proceeded to lose their second game against Wofford. Since their 0-2 start to the season, the Panthers have turned it around, going 11-2 and are currently scorching hot on a nine-game winning streak. Much of their success has to be attributed to their two leading scorers, Skyler Curran and Jenson Edwards.
When asked about who has stood out on the team this season, Edwards had one simple answer.
“Skyler,” she said. “Everyone knows who she is. She comes to play every night. She’s consistent. She can score the ball, and she does so many different things for this team.”
Curran currently leads the Panthers in scoring at a 17.2 PPG clip, while Edwards isn’t far behind at 14.7 PPG. Curran and Edwards are also top four on the team in PPG, RPG, APG, SPG, FG%, 3PT FG% and FT%. Getting that kind of production from top players is critical, and the performance of these two players is pushing the women’s team to new heights this season. But winning isn’t based solely off of two players.
Freshman guard Claire Wyatt has stepped up tremendously recently, earning a starting spot and also winning freshman player of the week twice this season. Another notable freshman is Cydney Johnson. The redshirt freshman earned freshman of the week honors after making her first four career starts and averaging almost 12 points a game, along with shooting almost 50% from the field and 80% from the charity stripe.
Everyone on the team is paying attention, and they are looking to continue this production for the rest of the season and eventually into the Big South tournament, which this team is looking to do some damage in.
The men’s season started the same as the women’s: 0-2 with a couple of heartbreaking losses. However, the rest of the season has not gone quite like the women’s. They got their first win in their third game of the season over the University of North Florida, 85-74. Since then, they have only won two games and currently sit at 3-6.
Unfortunately, the Panthers have had their past four games postponed and haven’t played since Dec. 31, when they lost 60-51 to the University of South Carolina Upstate. Although the team hasn’t been playing up to par this season, one extremely bright spot has been sophomore guard John-Michael Wright.
“We haven’t been playing as well as we should be,” said Wright. “[The coronavirus] is a part of it, but as a basketball player, you have to be prepared for anything. We’re having an okay season. We’re doing a lot better than last season, but we still have a lot to learn.”
Wright is far and away the leading scorer on the Panthers, scoring almost 19 points per game, while also adding about five rebounds and four assists per game. His mere presence on the hardwood and his scoring touch has almost single-handedly kept this Panthers team in games this year.
Going forward, there’s still a lot to improve upon for the men’s team.
“On the defensive end, we make a lot of bad mistakes fundamentally,” said Wright. “Closing out on shots, boxing out, winning 50/50 balls and all the little things can cause us to lose games.”
If the Panthers want to have a run in the Big South tournament, these mistakes need to be cleaned up. The lack of secondary scoring is also an issue on the roster, but with the freshmen players improving each game, there is some hope that they can turn it around in the final stretch of the season.
When asked what improvements the women’s team should make down the stretch, Edwards said, “Trust each other.”
Ranked No. 1 in the current standings, there’s a target on the back of this HPU women’s team, put there by other teams eagerly chasing that spot.
“We need to continue to trust the coaching staff to make the necessary adjustments for each of our games,” said Edwards.
The women’s team is going to continue to play hard, smart and fundamental basketball as they look to make a run at the Big South championship. The women’s next game is on Jan. 29 against Hampton University. The men’s next game is on Jan. 29 against Charleston Southern University.