Lancers compete to the end

Published 8:03 am Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A breakthrough season for Longwood University’s men’s basketball team came to an end Monday night in the quarterfinal round of the 2019 Roman College Basketball Invitational (CBI) after the Lancers battled fiercely all the way to the end against host DePaul University.

A Longwood athletics press release noted that in his final address to the team before tipoff Monday night against DePaul, Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich pounded a clipboard inscribed with one word in bold, black marker: COMPETE.

It’s a command that has been Aldrich’s go-to coaching cue all season, and the first-year head coach saw no reason to change it in the midst of a historic postseason journey that is the program’s first of the school’s Division I era, officials said in release.

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The release stated that facing down a supersized Big East Conference roster, Longwood took DePaul to the wire, but the Blue Demons won the game’s final minute to pull away for a 97-89 win at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago.

DePaul led by as many as 18 points, but Longwood withstood run after run and mounted an 18-4 rally of its own to tie the game at 79-79 on forward Damarion Geter’s three-pointer with three minutes, 48 seconds to play, officials cited. They added that the Lancers battled the Blue Demons to a one-possession game inside the final minute, but All-Big East guard Max Strus drew a game-saving charge with 27 seconds left to reclaim the ball for DePaul with a 92-89 lead.

The release noted that after Strus’ charge, DePaul hit 5-of-6 free throws to ice the win and put an end to Longwood’s 2018-19 season under Aldrich.

“Tonight epitomized, in large part, the team this year,” Aldrich said in the release. “What I mean by that is they continued to compete, they continued to fight. That is a core tenant of what we want Longwood basketball to be about. Regardless of who you’re playing, regardless of the situations and circumstances, you compete to the best of your ability. If they make plays and beat you, so be it.”

The defeat closed the book on a storybook year for the Lancers, who earned their first-ever Division I postseason bid, their first Division I postseason win and the second-most wins of Longwood’s 15-year Division I era, officials highlighted in the release. In their final two games, both in the CBI, the Lancers strung together their highest-scoring two-game stretch of the season, putting up 90 in a 22-point win over the University of Southern Mississippi in the first round March 20 and 89 against the Blue Demons.

However, the story ended Monday, due in large part to a heroic performance from DePaul’s leading scorer, Strus, the release cited. The NABC All-District honoree and No. 4 scorer in the Big East finished with a team-high 38 points, hitting 15-of-21 shots from the field en route to his fifth 30-point game of the season and second of the CBI.

Officials stated that Strus put the Blue Demons on his back in the final two minutes, scoring eight of their final 18 points, including a dagger of a three-pointer that turned a two-point lead to five with 1:17 to play. Longwood cut that deficit back to three after junior guard Shabooty Phillips hit two free throws and earned a chance to tie the game again after forcing a defensive stop, but Strus drew a charge on Phillips while the Big South Newcomer of the Year was driving to the lane.

Strus’ performance was enough to overcome a second straight lights-out shooting night from the Lancers, who knocked down 9-of-14 three-pointers in the second half and 13-of-27 for the game, the release highlighted. In a coming-out party, Lancers redshirt freshman Juan Munoz hit a career-high four of those treys as part of a career game in which he set season highs with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench.

Officials in the release noted that Phillips added 18 points, four assists and four three-pointers for Longwood, while senior forward Spencer Franklin had 14 points, Geter contributed 13 points and junior forward JaShaun Smith registered 11. Junior guard Jaylon Wilson added nine points and six assists without a turnover in his 33 minutes of play.

But DePaul made up the difference on the offensive glass, turning eight offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points, the release conveyed. Paul Reed spearheaded that effort in the paint, scoring 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, hitting 8-of-12 shots from the floor while adding two blocks and three steals.

The 97-point game was DePaul’s eighth time hitting the 90-point mark this season, while Longwood’s 89 points were the second most DePaul (16-16) has allowed to a non-Big East team all season behind only the University of Notre Dame’s 95 on Nov. 24, officials said.

“I told (my) team in the locker room just how proud I was of them,” Aldrich said in the release. “Once again, they really did a great job of continuing to battle and compete. That’s what we want the character of the program to be about. Especially Spencer and Geter; they’re banged up, they’re older guys, and they’ve been through a lot of college basketball. They’ve both suffered multiple injuries throughout their careers; then they have this new intense coach who’s on them about everything. They gave everything they could.

“Certainly, as I told them, I owe them a great debt of gratitude,” the coach continued. “The program does, and the university does too. They poured sweat and blood for our program, and they really value that we’re building a foundation for Longwood basketball.”

The loss signals the collegiate swan songs for Franklin and Geter, Longwood’s two seniors who capped their impactful careers with matching double-digit scoring outbursts in their final two games, the release cited. Franklin ended his final season as a Lancer by starting 25 consecutive games, leading the team in both offensive rebounds and field goal percentage. He scored a career-high 14 points in his final game.

Geter, meanwhile, will go down in the Longwood record books ranked second all-time in games played, fourth in blocks and seventh in rebounds, officials stated in the release. He served as team captain for five of his six years in Farmville, overcoming back-to-back season-ending injuries to put together a sixth-year season in which he led Longwood in blocks and rebounds per game while also hitting a career-high 11 three-pointers, including two in his final game.

Longwood finished the 2018-19 season with an overall record of 16-18.

The release conveyed that now the Lancers will turn the page to the 2019-20 season, into which they will bring a roster that includes 12 returners and three returning starters. Among that starting trio are Phillips and Smith, who started all 33 games together, and Wilson, who started Longwood’s final 22 and capped his first year as a Lancer by leading the team in scoring across the final 11 games.

“For us, it’s time to step back, regroup a little bit and recover,” Aldrich said in the release of the team’s offseason plans. “It’s been a long season. This is a marathon. I’m exhausted, they’re exhausted, the staff’s exhausted. Initially we just need to take a step back. They probably need to not see me for a little bit and get away. We’ll regroup, and the staff will really dig into the season and try to figure out where we need to improve, what we did well, what we did poorly and try to evaluate and analyze this year.”