Lancers find a way, squeeze past Charleston Southern

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Longwood just keeps on winning – and tearing up its own record book as an unforgettable 2021-22 men’s basketball season rolls on.

There’s no such thing as an easy road win. But Longwood remains unbeaten in the Big South because with every challenge they’ve been the better team when the game was on the line.

With key weapons Justin Hill and Leslie Nkereuwem out of the lineup with injuries, DeShaun Wade scored 19 points, Isaiah Wilkins added 15, and Longwood held off a feisty Charleston-Southern team 69-67 for the Lancers’ 10th straight win, denying the Buccaneers a home win over the Big South-leading Lancers (17-5, 9-0 Big South).

It came down to a last-second defensive stop. And for the second straight game, senior Zac Watson was right where he needed to be in the final minute on defense, blocking what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer by the Buccaneers’ Tahlik Chavez.

“He came up big for us again,” Aldrich said. “Zac is going to give you great effort and focus on every possession. That’s just who he is.”

Longwood now looks ahead to its first-ever home ESPN game in Willett Hall Thursday against UNC-Upstate at 7 p.m.

When the season started, Longwood fans had reason to hope this team would match its Division 1 best-ever mark of 17 wins.

But nobody thought they’d hit that milestone on February 5, with nearly a month left in the regular season.

With the narrow escape, Longwood remained one of the handful of teams nationally undefeated in conference play – just 10 in all of Division I heading into Saturday.

“To be 9-0, again, I don’t care who you’re playing, to be on the road, and be gone since Tuesday and pick up two road wins, that’s special. It’s not easy,” Aldrich said.

Nate Lliteras added 8 points and 7 rebounds in another strong effort, while Watson added 10 points and six boards to his game-saving block.

With Hill, Longwood’s leading scorer, unable to go, guard DA Houston returned to the court with 3 points and 3 rebounds in his first game action since suffering a scary head injury in the final minute against Gardner-Webb.

“DA gave us some really good minutes,” Aldrich said. “That’s a young man who hasn’t played and gave us 16 minutes, and we really needed him. He hadn’t played in 21 days.”

Guards Ga’Khari Lacount and Jaylani Darden were also called on for more-than-usual playing time.

On Wednesday night at UNC-Asheville, Longwood was ahead 19 at halftime, then saw the lead dwindle to 4 before hanging on to win 56-48.

On Saturday, the Lancers saw an 11-point halftime advantage evaporate as Charleston-Southern took its first lead on a dunk by Taje’ Kelly with 9:34 remaining.

At that point, CSU – feeding off a home crowd eager to see the Big South’s last-place team knock off the team in first – seemed to have all the momentum.

But they didn’t have DeShaun Wade, the Longwood senior, whose late-game heroics included a key 3-pointer, a spinning jump shot, a defensive rebound, and two free throws that put Longwood up 68-67 with 1:21 to go.

“His confidence has grown a lot,” Aldrich said of Wade. “I think he knows that I trust him quite a bit. I think his teammates trust him.”

When Isaiah Wilkins made one of two free throws with 5 seconds left, it left the Buccaneers a chance to tie or win.

But as Chavez rose for the shot, he was smothered by Wade and Watson, who was credited with the biggest blocked shot of his career. The exhausted Lancers – and their fans – could exhale.

Aldrich knew his team was fortunate to get out with a win – but also that it’s no fluke the team keeps finding a way to close out in the final minutes.

“The guys were tired,” he said. “You could see it. … In short, they fought through and made plays to win the game. And that’s all I can ask.”