Victory over UNC Asheville marks best Big South start

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, January 12, 2022

In a dominant second half performance, Longwood takes its second victory over UNC Asheville in less than 72 hours. The 76-72 final score marks a fourth straight win for Longwood, making this the best Big South start in program history.

“These women are very motivated to achieve the next goal or break the next record, and we have a great support staff that keeps them informed on what the next thing they can achieve as a team is,” said Head Coach Rebecca Tillett. “We always talk about what it’s going to take to make the next step in the league, third place for the first time last year is great, but first and second is a whole other ballgame. I think today was a great step in that direction for our women.”

“We’re always chasing the idea to make history,” said junior guard Kyla McMakin. “This team is so big on this. I think we did a great job coming in today and creating that history. There are so many other things that this team has done to create firsts and this is just another thing to add. No one expected to play this weekend, but the dedication and being able to adapt, get ready to play a hard team, in less time than usual, I think we did great and we came out and got a win.”

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Akila Smith and Anne-Hamilton LeRoy held up the front for Longwood (8-8, 4-0 Big South) in the first half by scoring a combined 17 points. Smith finished the game with 23 points, four rebounds, four steals and one block while also guarding the top scorer, Nadiria Evans, for UNC Asheville (6-9, 1-3 Big South) on the other end of the court.

“Over the summer I put in a lot of work so I could be in this position to help my team and this just shows all that work I put in and it means a lot,” said senior forward Akila Smith. “It means so much to keep getting these wins, while also being able to achieve what I am individually.”

Kai Carter for the Bulldogs had 23 points, nine rebounds, two assists and one steal. Nadiria Evans and Jordaynia Ivie for the Bulldogs also added 26 points to the score for the Bulldogs, but nothing was enough to erase a huge third quarter performance from the Lancers – where they outscored the Bulldogs 26-19.

“Everything that works in the first game, isn’t going to work the second game,” said McMakin. “Players learn and grow, so it’s much more competitive. Especially with a team you’ve beat, it’s so much harder to beat them that second time because they have that chip on their shoulders. We emphasized switching our defense and setting different screens and reads so they couldn’t plan for what we were going to do.”

“I told the team, there is a good amount of adversity,” said Tillett. “A road game against a team that swept us at home last year, we didn’t know we were going to play them, so there are built in challenges with all of that. What’s really neat about this team is they are committed to the process and figuring our stuff together, and both games UNC Asheville held us to low scoring averages in the first half, but then both second halves we became the explosive team we know we are.”

Kyla McMakin scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half alone after being nearly shut out for an entire half. Evans earning her fourth foul early in the third quarter opened the flood gates for McMakin, and she cashed in appropriately. Longwood was able to go on a 7-0 run while the Bulldogs were missing Evans, creating the largest lead for the Lancers in the game. McMakin was a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line as well as 6-13 from the field, while collecting four rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

“It’s always a great matchup with Kyla and Evans, and I felt like Kyla played like a veteran,” said Coach Tillett. “I think she had three shots in the first half and we talked about that at halftime, but for her to stay patient and to wait for the game to call for her to act was incredible, especially in critical parts of the game.”

“Evans is a great defender and she held me that first half. Tillett loves to say ‘I’ve never met a player who can hold you two halves,’ so I wanted to come out and prove that true,” McMakin said. “That fire came out that was from the feeling I didn’t do everything I could do to help my team. The support from my teammates, Tra’Dayja and Akila were looking for me and I just did whatever I could defensively and offensively to help produce.”

The strong second half performance for the Lancers doesn’t happen without freshman guard Kennedy Calhoun who had another huge game on both ends of the floor. Calhoun tied a career high with 13 points while adding two rebounds, three steals, and Longwood’s only three pointer of the game. Saturday’s game marked her fifth game of the previous six she has scored in double digits.

“Asking Kennedy to guard veteran players, women who are up for first and second team all-conference, and for her to guard them and influence their game all as a freshman, as a coach I think what she does for us is impressive,” said Coach Tillett.

Just before halftime the Lancers fought to come back going on a 6-2 run, while the Bulldogs were in a drought for just shy of three minutes. Even at half, Longwood came out firing to go on a 14-8 run and getting their largest lead of the game up until that point.

Defense has been the theme for several victories this season for the Lancers, and in Saturday’s game, Longwood grabbed 11 steals while forcing 24 turnovers. Meanwhile, they only had 10 turnovers on offense to earn their fourth straight win and second in a row over UNC Asheville.

“What’s been a pattern with us is we’re either doing defense really well, or offensive,” said Smith. “Coach Tillett tells us every day ‘the schedule is unpredictable, just stay ready for everything.’ She preaches that often, so we’re never slacking or thinking we don’t have a game or we do; we just stay ready for everything. As a team we work really hard in the offseason, and we’re buying in to the things our coaches are telling us and everyone gets to see it in action now. Everything that we have done so far is why we are 4-0 currently.”

Longwood’s next game is scheduled at Campbell on Tuesday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. Look to social media and for the latest in schedule changes and updates.