Obi-Rapu drops 27 to key LU win

Published 3:31 pm Thursday, November 19, 2015

Longwood men’s basketball sophomore Kanayo Obi-Rapu set a career high for the second straight game by erupting for 27 points to spark Longwood to an 89-65 win over La Roche Monday evening in Willett Hall.

Obi-Rapu surpassed the career high of 22 points he set just three days prior, banging 5-of-8 three-pointers and a career-best 10-of-14 shots from the field to help the Lancers (2-0) shake off a three-point halftime deficit and surge to a 57-point second half, the second-largest scoring half of head coach Jayson Gee’s three-year tenure.

Obi-Rapu was one of four double-figure scorers for the Lancers, who also got a second straight double-figure scoring effort from junior guard Darrion Allen and matching 13-point performances from Big South Preseason All-Conference center Lotanna Nwogbo and redshirt senior point guard Tra’Vaughn White. Redshirt freshman point guard Bryan Gee added six assists as part of a 21-minute, turnover-free performance.

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“I thought it was a good awakening for our team,” said Gee, whose Lancers entered halftime down 35-32 but rallied to send the program to its first 2-0 start since the 2000-01 season.

“We dug the hole, so I just tried to make it a learning experience. I told them [La Roche] was going to be playing sky high, and they did. At halftime, our guys were really holding each other accountable, and I thought that contributed to the second half.”

After La Roche (0-1) took a 35-32 lead into halftime, Obi-Rapu heard Gee’s halftime wake-up call loud and clear. He stormed of the break with 13 points inside the first six minutes of the half to jumpstart a 17-7 run in which he hit three straight three-pointers, including the go-ahead trey that gave Longwood a 45-42 lead they would not relinquish.

For all the shots that fell for Longwood in the second half, however, Obi-Rapu pointed to the other end of the floor as where the difference was made.

“It was just about defense, and we played better when we picked up our pressure and our energy,” said Obi-Rapu. “In the first half we were really lackadaisical. We weren’t talking. I guess we thought we were going to come in here and be a lot better than they were. But any team can play. They’re college basketball players too.”

Longwood needed Obi-Rapu’s second-half heroics to overcome a first-half shocker by La Roche, which rode nine points from Arnes Bajgora to a 35-32 halftime lead. The Redhawks outscored and outrebounded the Lancers over those first 20 minutes, working the boards to 10 second-chance points and forcing Longwood into eight turnovers.

“In the first half we just weren’t being our Longwood team, the coach Gee team that he’s trained us to be,” Obi-Rapu said.

That team showed up after halftime, thanks in large part to Obi-Rapu’s opening surge in which he hit five of his first six shots, including three consecutive three-pointers. Despite the hot shooting, Obi-Rapu noted that it wasn’t just his own shooting that jumpstarted the go-ahead run. It was also the reemergence of a sleeping giant, or at least one who had been on the mend from offseason ankle surgery.

“Lotanna [Nwogbo] started feeling it,” Obi-Rapu said. “We started looking inside-out. We took advantage of that, and when everyone sunk in on him, it was easier to get to the rim. We started hitting jump shots and we all started playing a lot better.”

With Nwogbo showing flashes of the Big South Preseason All-Conference caliber player the league’s media pegged him to be in October, the Lancers went on to shoot 62.1 percent from the floor in the second half. Nwogbo went for seven points and two blocks in just 10 minutes of play after the break and helped Longwood outscore the Redhawks by 22 points during those 10 minutes.

The Lancers will look to carry the momentum from Monday’s second half into the three-day Eastern Kentucky Hoops Classic, which opens Friday, Nov. 20, in Richmond, Ky. Longwood will face South Carolina State, Ball State and Eastern Kentucky on consecutive days Friday through Sunday as the start of a six-game road swing that ends with the Big South opener at High Point on Dec. 2.