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Lancers earn gut-check win over Panthers

Saturday night in Willett Hall, a season-high crowd of 1,672 watched Longwood University’s men’s basketball team continue a turnaround that has seen the Lancers win seven of their past 10 games.

Longwood rode a career-high 19 points from sophomore guard DeShaun Wade and an end-of-game takeover by his backcourt mate, redshirt sophomore guard Juan Munoz, to a 57-54 gut-check win over visiting High Point University.

Those two players spearheaded a game-changing performance from Longwood’s bench, combining for 32 of 39 bench points to send the Lancers to their fifth straight win over the Panthers (9-20, 6-10 Big South) and second-year Head Coach Griff Aldrich’s fourth straight win over High Point Head Coach Tubby Smith.

“It was really a grind. It was one possession at a time,” said Aldrich, whose 7-3 tear is Longwood’s winningest 10- game stretch in Big South play since the Lancers joined the conference in the 2012-13 season. “What carried us was a commitment and a desire to win.”

The victory continued a 10-game stretch that vaulted Longwood into sole possession of fifth place in the Big South standings with one game remaining. A top-five finish would be the program’s highest regular-season finish in its Big South era and earn the Lancers a first-round bye in the conference tournament, while a No. 6-8 seed would secure first-round hosting privileges for the tournament’s opening round March 3.

High Point refused to give in to Longwood’s weeks-long surge of momentum, overcoming a seven-point deficit to tie the score at 51 with 2:03 to play. Munoz stole the spotlight in the final minute, though, scoring Longwood’s final six points in the last 37 seconds of the game.

He began that takeover with a three-point play that broke the tie for good and capped it by hitting 4 of 5 free throws and grabbing a key defensive rebound on High Point’s second-to-last possession.

“Tonight was an emotional night for a lot of reasons, and for them to win the way they did, I thought it was symbolic of the season they’ve had,” Aldrich said. “They just continued to fight. I got emotional in the locker room, and as I told them, I’m just extremely proud of them and the fight they’ve consistently maintained throughout the season. To stick with it is just phenomenal. Where we are right now is 100 percent due to their character and due to their leadership.”

That leadership came from throughout the lineup Saturday night, most consistently from Wade, who provided a physical presence that matched High Point’s notoriously brutish style of play. The 6’2”, 210-pound guard hauled in seven rebounds, hit 6 of 8 shots from the floor and sent Longwood into halftime with a lead thanks to a stretch from the 4:38 mark to the buzzer in which he scored 11 points.

“I’ll tell you right now, when we came out we weren’t the tougher team,” Wade said. “But we nipped that in the bud real quick. I think closing out the first half, we knew we had to be that, so that’s what we did. From that point, I think we were the tougher team for the rest of the game.”

The Lancers (13-17, 8-9 Big South) visit Presbyterian College Thursday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m.