Longwood showcases toughness, outlasts Radford

Published 2:55 pm Thursday, January 13, 2022

Clutch buckets and defensive stops in overtime paved the way for Longwood Men’s Basketball to run past Radford 83-75 to open conference play on Wednesday night.

After a Radford rally tied the score at 69 as time expired, the Longwood (9-5, 1-0 Big South) defense locked in. The team didn’t allow Radford to hit a shot for the first four minutes and change of overtime, and the Lancer offense slowly pulled away behind free throws and big buckets.

Justin Hill and Jordan Perkins gave Longwood a four-point lead with free throws, but Isaiah Wilkins delivered the daggers. The senior ripped off eight straight points, including back-to-back three’s that gave Longwood an 81-71 lead, the team’s largest of the game.

“I was extremely proud of the team,” said fourth-year head coach Griff Aldrich. “Coach Ronnie Thomas whispered to me at halftime that the toughest team was going to win. We shared that with them at halftime, and then we shared it with them again at the beginning of overtime.

“Radford made three really key plays, and a lot of teams don’t come back from that. Our guys were resolute and immediately came back from that, I thought, very focused, and we went up 10 pretty quickly. I thought our toughness showed right there. We were ready to keep playing. There was physical toughness, but maybe more importantly, I was proud of them for the mental toughness.”

From that point on, the defense continued to do the dirty work to secure the win, only surrendering six points in the final five minutes of action.

Wilkins provided a second half spark by shaking off a slow start. The senior poured in 14 of his 16 points after halftime and hit a variety of big shots in the second half and overtime.

“Isaiah’s a really good shooter, and he’s shooting the ball with a lot of confidence,” said Aldrich. “He’s a young man who obviously has an incredible journey and incredible story, but he’s craving this type of experience right now, where he gets the opportunity to play a pivotal role in conference play. There’s no doubt he was critical for us in the overtime period.”

He picked up where Hill left off, as the dynamic sophomore guard reeled off 24 points while repeatedly slashing to the rim. The sophomore shot .500 (9-18) from the floor while also hitting three triples and dishing out four assists.

“Justin was phenomenal today,” Aldrich said. “I just think Justin really benefited last year from the early injuries and being thrust into a role where you have to play a lot of minutes and you really season. What you saw out there was not a sophomore point guard. He has really matured. It was fun to see. I think he’s only going to get better.

“When he came to Longwood, he was a real athlete with a scoring penchant, but he has really worked hard to develop the other elements of his game. His shooting, he made a couple of three’s—three of six—that wasn’t happening last year. And then his leadership of the team. Justin, when he’s going and playing well, I think it really frees up a lot of our other guys, and he was outstanding tonight.”

While the duo combined for 40 points, they had plenty of help as eight players scored for the Lancers. Leslie Nkereuwem finished as the third guy in double digits with 11, and the team effort on defense helped the Lancers snapped a 10-game losing streak to Radford.

Radford (5-10, 1-2 Big South) was able to force overtime with a late flurry of three’s in the final minute of regulation. Rashun Williams hit two three’s in the final minute, and Dravon Mangum hit a 35-footer as the buzzer sounded to tie the game at 69 apiece. The duo finished with 11 points apiece while Bryan Hart had a team-high 18 points, but the Lancers were able to hold Radford to six points in the extra period.

“Credit to Radford, they made some really incredible plays,” Aldrich said. “You can’t control whether the ball goes in, but what you can control is how you respond to it. We talk about that all the time, and I thought the team responded in incredible fashion. That gets you really excited about the rest of conference play. You see a team that is able to battle through adversity, that’s what good teams do.”

At the start of the game, Longwood came out in attack mode despite only playing their second game since the holidays. The Lancers jumped out to an early lead by repeatedly attacking the paint, and the team finished with 32 points in the paint on the night. The defense also turned 15 Radford turnovers into 18 points the other way on the evening, including 11 in the first half.

Longwood heads back home to host Gardner-Webb on Saturday afternoon. Tip is set for 3 p.m., and the game will be aired on ESPN+.