Race to Finish Line: Lancers close regular season
Published 10:06 pm Friday, February 17, 2023
For the second straight year, the Longwood men’s basketball team finds itself in the thick of the Big South title race as the regular season draws to a close.
Once again, all roads lead through Farmville.
The Lancers will finish the last two weeks of the season with two critical games at Willett Hall — against the top two teams ahead of them in the conference standings. It’s safe to say that after last year’s breathtaking run to the NCAA Tournament, the Lancers are here to stay.
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This Saturday, the Lancers will take on in-state rival Radford Highlanders, and they will end the season a week later against UNC Asheville. Both games are expected to be sellouts. In between, they are on the road for a tilt against Gardner-Webb, who are tied with the Lancers for third place in the conference.
“This is the second most wins in the school’s Division I history. That’s an incredible feat with a team that’s faced a lot of adversity all season with departures and injuries and things of that nature,” Longwood coach Griff Aldrich said after the team’s win at High Point. “To be in a situation where we’ve got 10 conference wins and 18 wins on the year with four conference games left, this group has a lot to celebrate. You win 18 games by having a team that enjoys one another and loves one another. We’ve been blessed over the past few years with a locker that’s been pretty cohesive and has had good chemistry. I think our chemistry is getting better and better.”
Ratings and home court
The team will also finish among the top five in the Big South and are guaranteed a first round bye in the Big South tournament for a fourth straight season. The Lancers have also guaranteed a .500 record in conference play for a fourth straight season, which is a first in the history of the program.
The team’s home court advantage at Willett Hall has been, once again, a big part in Longwood’s battle at the top of the Big South standings. Over the past two seasons, Longwood is 27-3 in their home gym and 53-19 in the past five seasons.
This year, the Lancers are 11-2 at home, and the full-throated support of more than 1,550 fans per game –in a gym that seats close to 1,800 — since the calendar turned to 2023 has been a big part of that.
“It’s amazing. You can definitely feel the energy when you’re on the court,” said DeShaun Wade, one of the team veterans who has seen Willett become the toughest place to play in the Big South in his four seasons at Longwood. “You can hear people screaming your name, the other team’s name, getting mad at the refs calls. It’s just a fun environment. It gives us a boost. It gets our adrenaline pumping. It helps us to do things that we probably think we are capable of doing. We end up doing it because we are into the moment.”
“It’s important to us because it’s a place that can be so lively,” said Zac Watson, a team captain and veteran presence in the middle for the Lancers. “When the whole community comes out — students, your classmates, professors even, and people from the community — it’s a real close feeling in there and it gets loud. It’s good to see so many people that care about us both off the court and on the court come to the games. In those times when it is gritty and you’re tired and you need that extra boost, and they say something to you, call you by name or encourage the team in general, it reminds you that you’re doing it for something yourself. It helps you get through those tough stretches of a game.”