Will to Win: Lancers Push Past High Point

Published 4:59 pm Friday, February 18, 2022

A raucous crowd couldn’t deter a determined Longwood mens basketball team on Thursday night in a rematch with High Point. After the Lancers took down the Panthers 70-66 in Farmville on Tuesday night, they did so again on Thursday 78-71 at a packed Qubein Center behind Justin Hill’s 18-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Hill was everywhere after halftime, ripping down rebounds and going coast-to-coast as he stuffed the stat sheet with the first double-double of his Lancer career. The dynamic sophomore added five assists and three steals as well to guide Longwood (20-6, 12-1 Big South) to its 20th win for the first time in the team’s Division I history.

“From an execution standpoint, the will to win, these guys keep proving it,” said Longwood head coach Griff Aldrich. “They keep showing it. They keep making plays down the stretch to extend the lead, maintain the lead and put the game away. As much as ball screen defense in the middle of the first half is a skill, so is resilience. So is the will to win. And maybe more than anything I’ve ever been associated with, this team has that in spades.

“Justin’s a terrific player. The thing with Justin is, he’s got incredible athletic ability, and his skill level has really increased quite a bit. And now his IQ is going with it as well. This is still a guy who was out for about eight or nine days. I still think Justin is getting his sea legs back. He continues to make plays. Huge piece for us.”

As good as Hill was though, he wasn’t alone. He was one of four players to score in double figures for the top offense in the Big South as the Lancers continue to add to a growing list of accomplishments this season.

“You don’t see the ball stick too long with any one person because they’re trying to make a play for their stat sheet,” Aldrich said. “You see the ball move, you see the ball get shared, and that really starts with their mindset and their attitude. And that really starts in the locker room, and this is an unselfish group.”

Isaiah Wilkins had 17 points, including a dagger three with less than two minutes to play that gave Longwood enough breathing space after High Point had trimmed the lead to five.

DA Houston added 14 points for a career high, and he and Hill were ferocious on the glass. The duo combined for eight of the team’s offensive rebounds. DeShaun Wade added 12 points as well.

“DA is an unsung hero,” Aldrich added. “He has had a heck of a season. Had an unbelievably horrific spill, lost his grandmother and missed a game as a result of that, but DA’s probably one of the most fierce competitors that I’ve been around. He is a bulldog.”

That was enough to fend off a determined High Point side that clawed back from a 10-point deficit at the half to take the lead on a Zach Austin three with 9:33 to go.

“Hats off to High Point,” Aldrich said. “How about this atmosphere? Unbelievable. Just a fun college basketball game to be a part of. Packed house, engaged crowd. I thought our guys handled it extremely well. They weren’t fazed by it at all. Just super proud of them.”

The Lancers found another gear, though, and a Zac Watson layup set off a 14-1 Longwood run over the next five-and-a-half minutes. Hill dropped in five points in that stretch and was one of five players to score.

The Panthers (11-16, 5-8 Big South) stayed engaged behind Jaden House’s 16 second-half points, and they trimmed the Lancer lead to five with 1:08 to go. But Hill found Wilkins for a wide open three at the top of the key that effectively sealed the deal with 37 seconds to play.

House led High Point with 20 points. John-Michael Wright added 18 while Bryant Randleman and Austin chipped in 12 points and 10 points respectively.

The Lancers are back in action on Saturday as they host Hampton to open a two-game homestand with three to play on the season. Tip is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be aired on ESPN+.

“This is just a great group to be around and to work with,” said Aldrich about his team. “They’re not without their issues like me, but everybody’s pushing and rowing towards the same goal and in the same direction. It’s been a lot of fun to coach these guys. My hope is that we’ll enjoy these next couple of weeks and see where it leads us.”