Second half surge powers Longwood Lancers past GWU

Published 7:56 am Thursday, January 19, 2023

The first 20 minutes were all Gardner-Webb. However, the final 20 all belonged to the Longwood Lancers on Wednesday night in a 64-59 win.

The Lancers (14-6, 6-1 Big South) came out of halftime shot out of a cannon and used an 11-2 run to surge ahead in front of an energetic and loud Willett Hall crowd. The Lancer faithful then helped Longwood sustain the rally and hold off Gardner-Webb (8-11, 3-4 Big South) down the stretch.

“It’s fantastic. Incredible job by the students and community,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich about the lift the fans provided. “Greek life was out here tonight. It changes the vibe of the game. We didn’t have life. And they helped bring us back. Then when we’re starting to make our run, they’re pouring gas on the fire. It’s just been great. All year, we’ve had incredible community support. Almost 1,600 people here, it’s really exciting on a weeknight to be at almost 80 to 90 percent capacity. It’s a great thing.”

Lancers win with defense

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Defense was the key that unlocked Longwood in the final 20 minutes. After Gardner-Webb shot. 520 from the floor in the first half, the Lancers locked down and limited the Runnin’ Bulldogs to .348 (8-23) shooting after halftime. The Lancers also forced 18 turnovers in the game, much to the delight of the passionate fan base.

“When we play well, we’re defending the ball,” said Aldrich. “That allows us to get out in transition. When we’re having to play half court offense and set up, we’re just not as dynamic. We recruit athletic, tough kids who are really hard to play against in the open floor. That’s a big deal for us. When we’re not getting stops, that’s a big problem for us.”

The turnovers and missed shots turned into opportunities the other direction, and Longwood shot .517 (15-29) from the floor. The Lancers were efficient by relentlessly attacking the paint to the tune of 22 points in the paint in the second half. Meanwhile, the defense limited Gardner-Webb to eight points in the paint over the final 20 minutes.

Longwood Lancers, by the numbers

Walyn Napper led the charge to the rim with a team-best 17 points for Longwood as the Lancers won their 12th straight home conference game. He added four assists and fearlessly knifed to the rim repeatedly, including with less than 30 seconds to play to preserve the win. He chipped in defensively as well, drawing multiple charges.

“Walyn is still trying to figure everything out as far as our system,” Aldrich said. “He is truly a dynamic player who has the ability to create his own shot. That’s hugely valuable for us as the shot clock winds down. At the end of the game, he seals the game by making a free throw because he just took the ball to the hole, and they couldn’t stay with him and had to foul him. He goes to the free throw line, puts us up four, and the game’s over. He has that ability.”

Napper had plenty of help. Jesper Granlund added 10 points as well, and all nine players that played scored for Longwood.

‘It’s not who we are’

Longwood trailed by as much as 11 with five minutes to play in the first half after Gardner-Webb used a pair of runs to take a 30-19 lead. Julien Soumaoro led the Runnin’ Bulldogs with 15 first half points, and he finished with a game-high 18 on six made threes.

DA Houston stemmed the tide with a jumper, and the Lancers slowly crept back within two possession to trail 34-28 at the break.

“Credit Gardner-Webb. They played hard, and we didn’t respond,” Aldrich said of his team’s first half. “They were posting us up. They were driving us, and we didn’t really respond to it. That’s not who we are, that’s not who we’ve been.”

Napper dropped in a jumper to start the second half, and Longwood reeled off an 11-2 run to take the lead at 39-36. During the run, Houston splashed a triple to give Longwood its first lead since early in the first half.

“To see this first half, it’s not who we are,” Aldrich added. “In the second half, I think you saw a team that was playing with purpose, a team that was committed on the defensive end and making things happen. It was really hard for Gardner-Webb. Nothing was easy. We forced several shot clock violations. That’s illustrative of a really good defensive effort. If we don’t play that way, it’s going to be a challenge.”

Gardner-Webb responded though, and the two sides traded blows for the next few minutes. Houston, Granlund and Michael Christmas combined to score six straight as part of a 13-4 Longwood run. Four different players scored, and Isaiah Wilkins capped it with a three to give Longwood a 56-48 lead with 7:19 to play.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs trimmed the Lancer lead to one with 2:44 to play. The Lancer defense didn’t allow a point the rest of the way.

Coming up next for Longwood Lancers

“We are inconsistent as a team,” Aldrich said. “If we can figure that out, which we will, we can really make some noise. The exciting thing is, we are winning, and we are still not playing our best basketball. A lot of it is not the X’s and O’s. A lot of it is the mental understanding and the commitment to doing everything that we possibly can to attack and compete. If we can learn to do that, we are going to be in good shape.”

The Longwood Lancers head on the road for a two-game road swing that begins on Saturday at Presbyterian. Tip is scheduled for 2 p.m. The game will be aired on ESPN+ and on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.