Longwood wraps up non-conference play with a win over SC State

Published 11:42 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Longwood wrapped up non-conference play on Tuesday afternoon, cruising past South Carolina State 104-77.

Longwood (8-5) won its third straight and fourth in five games behind the multi-pronged attack that has become the norm under fifth-year head coach Griff Aldrich. Four players tied for the team lead with 14 points, and a season-best seven players scored in double figures. Isaiah Wilkins, DeShaun Wade, Jesper Granlund and Jaylani Darden each had 14 points. For Darden, it was a career high.

“Our offense is designed to create a lot of opportunities for different people,” said Aldrich. “When the ball is moving, if you’re moving, you will probably find yourself in a position to take a shot. I think that happened tonight. I think the other thing that helped was in transition that you have different guys scoring. We had a lot of transition baskets, particularly in the second half.”

Longwood sets program best record

When the Lancers did miss, they tracked it down to the tune of 21 offensive rebounds, a program best since joining the Big South. Zac Watson led the charge to the boards while garnering his first collegiate double-double. He posted 13 points and tied a career high with 12 rebounds, and he had six offensive rebounds, but he wasn’t alone. Eight players had an offensive rebound for Longwood.

“We’ve got to be a team that attacks the glass, and right now, we’re starting to do that,” Aldrich said. “The past few games, you’ve seen our offensive rebounding percentage number—which is the number we look at more, which is what percent of the time do we get an offensive rebound—but 21 offensive rebounds is remarkable. Obviously we beat them on the boards 44 to 26. That’s a huge part of the game. They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, top 100, and we held them without an offensive rebound in the first half. I thought across the board, that’s something we’ve got to get better at as a team. It’s a little bit of a mindset. Last year we had a little bit more depth than we do right now without DA and Leslie. You’re playing two guys short.”

The Lancer defense also buckled down early in the second half and helped create separation. Longwood held a feisty South Carolina State (2-12) team to .345 shooting from the floor over the final 20 minutes, and those stops turned into buckets the other way. Longwood finished with 29 fast break points on the afternoon.

‘These are hard games’

“The game before Christmas, these are hard games,” Aldrich said. “The gym is not as full, and there’s not as much energy. Both teams looked a little sluggish and tired and lethargic, and we were trying to get our engines going. It was a little bit hard. In the second half, we started to get a few more stops. That allowed us to get out in transition, and we were able to extend the lead a little bit. Obviously there coach getting kicked out gave us a little bit of an edge and a cushion and a bit of an advantage for the rest of the game, but I thought the guys did on the defensive end more than anything.”
In the first half, neither side could create any separation. South Carolina State came out on fire from three. The Bulldogs were 6-11 from three in the opening 20 minutes, with Rakeim Gary hitting four of them.

While Longwood was ice cold from three, Watson and company led the charge to the glass to create extra scoring opportunities.

Longwood finally started to create some separation with a combination of stops and rack attacks, with Nate Lliteras giving the team an eight-point lead at 26-18 with 6:18 to go in the first half. However, Cameron Jones helped S.C. State creep back in with less than four minutes to play in the half with back-to-back buckets to cut the lead to four.

Five different Lancers scored in the next two minutes to extend the lead to 10, but Gary hit back-to-back threes to cut Longwood’s lead to 38-34 at the break. He and Jones each finished with 21 points.

Longwood defense tightens up

After Gary cut the lead to two early in the second half, Longwood’s defense stiffened up. Watson and Granlund both attacked the rack and scored to jumpstart a 16-3 run over the next two-and-a-half minutes. S.C. State only hit one shot in that stretch.

During the run, S.C. State head coach Erik Martin was ejected after being called for two technical fouls following a block by Granlund on Jones. Wade drained all four free throws, and Michael Christmas added two more foul shots for a 12-point lead. Darden capped the run with an and-one to extend the lead to 15 points with 16:08 to play.

From that point, Longwood stayed in attack mode on offense. The Lancers finished with 52 points in the paint. It was the third time this year that Longwood has scored 50 or more points in the paint. It was also the fifth time in six home games that Longwood has scored at least 90 points.

Nate Lliteras added 13 points, and Walyn Napper chipped in 12 points and a team-best six assists for Longwood.

‘It’s been a challenging preseason’

“I told the guys they need to go home and take care of their bodies and rest up,” Aldrich said. “I want them mentally to relax and get away. It’s been a challenging preseason. We’ve had a lot of injuries. It’s been a grueling month with being on the road and only playing one home game, today. They need to rest. Mentally probably more than physically. My hope is that they’ll get some time away, be able to eat some Christmas cookies, run a little bit, shoot a little bit and, as we said, we’ll come back on the 26th for practice. Then we’ve got High Point, who is probably playing as well as anybody in the conference right now. Some are saying they could be the favorite right now to win the conference. We’ll have a real stiff task for us coming right out of the gates on the 29th.”

The 8-5 record for Longwood matches last season’s non-conference run as the Lancers gear up for conference play. Longwood will being its 18-game Big South gauntlet on Thursday, December 29 at home against High Point. Tip is set for 3 p.m., and the game will be aired on ESPN+ and on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.