Longwood battles, but Asheville’s surge carries Bulldogs past

Published 10:36 pm Thursday, January 12, 2023

In a low-scoring affair between the top two teams in the Big South, UNC Asheville stayed unbeaten on its home court. The Bulldogs took down the Longwood Lancers 54-46 on Thursday night.

The defenses made life difficult as both sides struggled to shoot the basketball, but ultimately Drew Pember led Asheville (12-6, 4-1 Big South). The Big South Preseason Player of the Year scored 13 of his 19 points in the final 20 minutes. He added 14 rebounds.

That was enough to overcome a five-point Longwood (12-6, 4-1 Big South) advantage at the break. Isaiah Wilkins led Longwood with 10 points and a career best 15 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough on a night when Asheville’s defense held Longwood to .336 (19-56) shooting from the floor.

“We haven’t had two good days of practice and turned it over a lot, and it’s been something that we’ve been frustrated about,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich. “The problem is you have to train yourself on the practice floor to be urgent and not just rely on when its game day [that you flip a switch], and that’s our philosophy—its what we believe in as a program. And we haven’t been doing that. We’d been doing that for about the past month, but the past couple of days, we haven’t. We talk about pouring into the root, and sometimes the fruit isn’t what you want. We got what we deserved tonight because we didn’t come prepared.”

How it started for Longwood

Early in the game, the two sides traded buckets before Longwood’s defense clamped down to take the lead.

Nate Lliteras canned a three to give Longwood a 7-5 lead with 16:26 to go in the first half, and the Lancers held it for the rest of the half. The defense limited UNC Asheville to nine field goals and a .346 shooting percentage in the half.

While Asheville’s defense made life tough for the Lancer offense, the Lancers scratched and clawed their way to a 25-15 lead with 6:42 to play in the half. However, the Bulldogs closed the half on a 7-2 run to cut the Lancer advantage to five at the break.

In the second half, a steady dose of Drew Pember coupled with timely shots from Fletcher Abee and Taijon Jones, who both finished with 10 points apiece, slowly whittled away the Lancer advantage. The trio keyed a 23-5 run over a 13 minute stretch that turned the Longwood lead into a nine-point advantage for the home side with 3:04 to play.

Wilkins had a five point surge in the last two minutes to cut the Asheville lead to 49-46, but Jones scored a layup at the other end to help fend off the Lancers and effectively ice the game.

Time to turn the page

“We have to turn the page, learn from this, decide if we really want to lock in and try to grow as a team,” Aldrich added. “This is a very good team, and it has a lot of potential, but you have to do the work if you want to be very good. You can’t just show up on game day and hope that it works. That’s the problem. We experienced that tonight.”

Longwood heads back home to Willett Hall to host USC Upstate on Saturday night. The first 400 students will receive a shirt as part of the White Out Willett Hall promotion sponsored by College Corners on High. Tip is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be aired on ESPN+ and on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.