Still dancing: Lancers conquer The Mount for first March Madness win

Published 12:32 pm Friday, March 18, 2022

Bigger stage. Bigger spotlight. Same old Lancers.

In their March Madness debut, the Big South Champion Longwood Lancers (22-11) introduced themselves to the nation with a commanding – and history-making – takedown of reigning Northeast Conference Champion Mount St. Mary’s, 74-70, in the NCAA’s inaugural women’s basketball First Four Thursday night at Dail Basketball Center.

Fresh off a dominant run through the Big South, in which they won 14 of their final 15 games and stormed through the conference tournament, Longwood carried the full weight of that momentum into their first-ever NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament. Sparked by a 13-0 run after the opening tip, the Lancers built a lead as large as 22 points before fighting off a fourth-quarter charge by the Mountaineers (16-12), who were playing in the NCAA postseason for a second straight year.

With the win, Longwood advances to the NCAA First Round where they will face No. 1 seed NC State Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPN.

Big South Player and Defensive Player of the Year Akila Smith carried the Lancers on both ends of the floor, outscoring Mount St. Mary’s by herself in the first quarter en route to 32 points, 13 rebounds and the 23rd double-double of her career. She shot 12-of-21 from the field and 8-of-10 from the line, added two blocks and an assist, and keyed a dominant effort on the boards that saw the Lancers out-rebound Mount St. Mary’s 40-29

That performance provided the foundation for the Lancers’ 10th consecutive win and added another chapter to a turnaround story that has been among the best in college basketball this season. Just four years since the Lancers went 3-27 in year one under head coach Rebecca Tillett in 2018-19, Longwood won the program’s first Big South Championship and first NCAA Division I Tournament game in back-to-back outings just 11 days apart.

The win elevates yet again a storied season that has also seen Longwood top the 20-win plateau for the first time in the Division I era and set new program standards for Big South wins (15) and regular-season finish (1st). The NCAA victory is the third in program history and the team’s first since Hall of Fame head coach Shirley Duncan led the program to a first-round win in the 2003 Division II Tournament.

Along with Smith’s 32-point effort, fellow All-Big South first-teamer Kyla McMakin scored 18, and Big South Tournament MVP Tra’Dayja Smith directed the offense with 11 points and six assists. The Lancers grabbed 19 offensive rebounds – including eight by Akila Smith – and held NEC Player of the Year Kendall Bresee to 6-of-13 shooting from the field.