Lancers’ season ends with loss to Pepperdine

Published 10:15 am Thursday, March 25, 2021

All good things come to an end, but not without plenty to celebrate.

Putting to rest a milestone-laden season that saw Longwood (12-17) set a program record for Big South wins, reach the Big South semifinals for the second time, and earn only the second postseason bid of the program’s Division I era, Pepperdine dispatched the Lancers with a season-ending 80-66 defeat in Monday’s quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational.

Behind a double-double from All-West Coast Conference point guard Colbey Ross and 22 points from fellow All-WCC standout Kessler Edwards, Pepperdine overcame a 21-point night from Longwood’s All-Big South point guard Juan Munoz to deal the Lancers only their fourth loss since Jan. 19.

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Ross finished with 14 points and 13 assists, while Edwards poured in a game-high 22 to send the Wave (13-12) into Tuesday’s CBI semifinal against the winner of Bellarmine and Army.

“There’s no disrespect in losing this game,” Longwood head coach Griff Aldrich said, who also took the Lancers to the 2019 CBI in his first year leading the program. “I thought the guys really battled, and I thought we ran into two really good players in Edwards and Ross. Edwards got loose – I thought we had him under control in the first half, but it was just hard to keep him down. They really went to him and tried to get him the ball in the second half, and 7-for-8 [shooting in the second half], we just had a hard time trying to control him.

“Do we all wish we could have executed a little bit better? Absolutely, but overall we competed really hard and that’s what we ask for from these guys.”

Munoz, who overcame back-to-back season-ending injuries in his first two seasons at Longwood to become only the fourth player in program history to earn All-Big South first or second team honors this year, did his best to extend Longwood’s season by hitting 5-of-7 3-pointers and scoring nine of the Lancers’ final 18 points. The swan song to his fifth season of college basketball also included four assists and pushed him over 850 points and 160 made 3-pointers for his career, as well as elevating his career 3-point percentage to a Longwood Division I-era record .385 in his 86 career games.

But even with Munoz’s 21 points, and accompanying double-digit games from Big South All-Freshman Team selection Justin Hill (13 points) and do-it-all guard Heru Bligen (10), Pepperdine›s high-powered offense was too much for Longwood to hold down for an entire 40 minutes.

Edwards and Ross keyed that effort, as Edwards hit 8-of-13 shots from the floor while Ross’s 13 helpers led to 29 points. Only one of those assists went to Edwards, as Ross dished to six different players and spearheaded an efficient offensive performance in which Pepperdine shot .492 (30-of-61) from the field against a Longwood defense that held its Big South opponents to a league-low 64.3 points per game in conference play.

As the fourth-place finisher in a West Coast Conference that featured NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed Gonzaga and NCAA Tournament at-large recipient BYU, Pepperdine came into the eight-team tournament with the nation’s second ranked 3-point defense and used that perimeter pressure to hamper Longwood’s most relied-upon offensive weapon.

Longwood shot just 7-of-21 from beyond the arc, with Munoz hitting five of those, and went cold at the start of the second half, which allowed the Wave to open up a game-changing 12-0 run. Edwards and Ross combined for eight points during that rally, which turned Longwood’s 36-33 lead into a 45-36 deficit.

Pepperdine led the rest of the way and fought off a Longwood rally in the final 10 minutes, countering a 10-4 Lancer run with seven consecutive points to push its lead back to double digits.

The loss brings to a close a third season of rebuilding the Lancer program under Aldrich, who since taking over in March of 2018 has now led Longwood to two CBI bids, 24 Big South wins and a D-I era record three consecutive seasons with double-digit wins.

“I told these guys, I think about the program and when we got hired three years ago, you think about the type of program you want,” Aldrich said. “I said first and foremost, we want to have program with high-character kids – just outstanding young men. I think to a man, there’s not a single person who’s not just good, not just a nice kids, but an outstanding young man. They’re just fantastic kids. They’re a pleasure to coach.

“One of the things that I’m so impressed with these guys is just their desire all year long to continue to battle, continue to improve, continue to seek to be the best they can be. They’ve really embraced in many respects our desire to be a team that plays extremely tough and plays really hard, but is also very skilled.

“I really credit Christian [Wilson], Juan and DeShaun [Wade], our three captains and leaders, for leading the charge in that. Perfect? Absolutely not, but those are three guys who really came in last spring trying to figure out what it meant for them to lead. None of them had had that opportunity before, and I thought by the end of the year they were doing a fantastic job.”