At Their Best When It Matters Most: Lancers Top Gardner-Webb 75-63 For 20th Win
BOILING JUMP, SC – In March, Longwood plays victorious basketball against the top teams battling for the Big South championship.
The Lancers haven’t looked better all season. And now the fun really begins.
Isaiah Wilkins scored 14 points, Walyn Napper added 11 points and seven assists, and DA Houston made late clutch plays at both ends of the court as Longwood defeated host Gardner-Webb 73-63 on Thursday to give the Lancers their fifth win in their last six games.
A national ESPNU television audience watched as Longwood (20-10, 12-6 Big South) earned a second-place finish in the regular season — and for the first time in varsity history, hit 20 straight-season wins.
Saturday sees a celebratory matchup between the top two teams in the Big South as Longwood host first-placed UNC Asheville in the final game at Willett Hall.
“This team is playing really good basketball right now,” said the head coach Griff Aldrich called. “We played a very good team at Gardner-Webb who will be a top four team in the league and on the road from start to finish we felt we had some control of the game. The exciting thing I told them is that I don’t even think we played great. I thought we played well. But there is a whole other level that we can reach.
“This is exciting,” Aldrich said. “You always want to play your best ball when you go into March. Luckily I think this team does that.”
Longwood, winner of five out of six, there is little doubt that Longwood is at its peak in the latter part of the season, where it has been tested by some of the Great South’s best.
Playing without a senior captain DeShaun Wade During the first half, Longwood’s defense and the rest of his balanced offense picked up the slack, with 10 players seeing action and nine scoring before the break. Longwood started with a 14-2 run just before the middle of the first half and built a lead of up to 16 at 30-14.
The second half resembled quite a few of Longwood’s previous victories – struggling to slam the door by a sizable margin but always having a response when pressed. After falling 18 points in the opening minutes of the second half, Gardner-Webb (15-14, 10-7) came back to 8 points multiple times – but key baskets from Wilkins and two straight baskets off Leslie Nkereuwem captured Longwood.
It got down to six in the final minutes – but Houston took over there. He hit a 3-pointer at the 3:49 mark, had a critical offensive rebound and reset with 1:20 to go, then stole the ball from Gardner-Webb’s standout DQ Nichols with 57 seconds left and attracted a flagrant foul the breakaway to victory.
“DA reflects the urgency that we want,” Aldrich said. “And he has it in every piece. It’s just the way the kid is wired.”
Longwood’s guard play was outstanding, even if Wade was absent for Thursday’s first half. Napper now has 12 assists and zero turnovers in two games, including Longwood’s 73-63 win over Radford on Saturday.
“We’re getting a sense of how dynamic he can be,” Aldrich said.
From now on, every game is a big game – starting with the regular-season finals on Saturday. It commemorates Longwood’s basketball history before moving to the brand new Joan Perry Brock Center at Willett Hall next season. And on the pitch, the expected sell-out crowd will see a clash between the league’s top two teams that is sure to set the tone for a competitive Big South tournament in Charlotte next week. Tip off is 4:30 p.m
“I think it’s really special,” Aldrich said. “There will be a lot of people coming back who actually played there. It’s really exciting that this is the last game. I’m looking forward to those guys coming back and playing the No. 1 and No. 2 in the league to see others.”
“It’s exciting for people to come back and see the end of an era and the exciting beginning of a new era.”