Longwood Lancers earn rivalry win over Radford with team effort

Published 7:58 pm Saturday, February 18, 2023

FARMVILLE – A revenge rivalry win in the home stretch of the season. The second-to-last men’s basketball game in Willett Hall turned out to be one of the best yet for the Longwood Lancers.

DeShaun Wade, Zac Watson and Isaiah Wilkins stepped up with clutch baskets that sealed it down the stretch. Leslie Nkereuwem added the exclamation points with a pair of thunderous dunks that sent the sellout crowd into a frenzy.

Wilkins led Longwood with 16 points and Wade added 15 on four 3-pointers as Longwood beat in-state rival Radford, 73-63 Saturday. They avenged an earlier loss to the Highlanders and moved the Lancers into in a tie for second place in the Big South with two games left in the regular season.

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“Tonight may be our best game of the year as far as putting all the effort, the focus on details, and emphasis as a team together,” said head coach Griff Aldrich. “I thought the guys put together a great performance.”

It was Longwood’s four captains – Wade, Wilkins, Watson and Nkereuwem – who carried their team to a hugely important win in front a packed crowd that filled Willett and seemed to fuel the Lancers as they fended off a Radford comeback attempt with a string of clutch baskets in the final minutes.

Longwood Lancers hold the lead

Radford had cut a 15-point deficit to seven with a 10-0 run at the 5:25 mark, but Watson hit a pair of free-throws, then on the next possession took a feed from Walyn Napper in the air and in one motion laid it in as the shot-clock expired, bringing the crowd to its feet and settling Longwood with an 11-point lead.

“Those guys led us,” Alrich said of his four captains – Wilkins, Wade, Watson and Nkereuwem. “I’m not just talking about production. I’m talking about the spirit and the culture of the team tonight. They were the ones embodying the values that we need. The toughness, the effort, the competing. I though they did a great job.”

Wilkins’ 3-pointer with 1:51 to go put Longwood up 12 at 69-57.  But the last four points were the most fun: twice in the final 1:23 Longwood broke Radford’s press and fed a pair rim-shaking dunks by Nkereuwem that sent the noise-meter just about as high as it’s ever hit in Willett Hall’s 40-plus year history as home of Longwood basketball.

What’s next?

That history comes to an end next Saturday in the regular-season finale against UNC-Asheville, currently in first place in the Big South. Longwood now stands tied with Radford in second place, a game ahead of Gardner-Webb, whom the Lancers play away next Thursday on ESPNU. Then it’s on to the Big South Tournament in Charlotte.

“There’s a great level of energy,” Aldrich said. “I think about where we were, four or five years ago. Now we’re getting defense chants, the community side is packed, the students are here. It’s just a lot of fun. Hopefully a lot of fun for fans, too. When you see a group play the way they did tonight, that’s not a hard group to cheer for.”