As season ends, Lancers basketball looks ahead
Published 3:40 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023
It was a second-straight 20-win season that proved Longwood basketball is no flash-in-the-pan. After years of struggling to compete, the Lancers have all the pieces in place to be a regular contender atop the Big South.
But the biggest prize — a second trip to March Madness — will have to wait.
Isaiah Wilkins carried Longwood with 23 points, but Campbell rallied with a ferocious second-half run to beat the Lancers 81-68 Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big South Tournament.
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No. 2 seed Longwood had beaten the seventh-seeded Camels decisively twice during the regular season. But Friday, Campbell looked like a different team, flustering Longwood by mixing up defenses. In a highly competitive Big South, the old adage about how hard it is to beat a team three times in a season proved true.
“Credit Campbell, having played on Wednesday, to come back,” head coach Griff Aldrich said. “One of the things we have battled throughout this season is just a level of inconsistency. I think unfortunately that bit us again tonight, and we unfortunately weren’t able to respond in the way we needed to, and Campbell capitalized on it, to their credit.”
It was also a reminder that getting back to the NCAA Tournament a second time is at least as hard as getting there once.
LONGWOOD SETS A NEW BAR FOR SUCCESS
But the bar of what counts as success has definitely moved for Lancer basketball.
“One of the positives of last year, going to the Tournament and raising the profile, one of the challenges is raising the expectations,” Aldrich said. “But at Longwood that was the dream. We wanted to build a sustainable program that was about transforming and graduating men of character that also competes for a championship.”
“It’s disappointing but it’s pretty incredible to say Longwood won 20 games and we’re disappointed. That’s a credit to these guys and the work they’ve put in, and the blood, sweat and tears they’ve contributed to the program and the university.”
LANCERS TAKE STOCK
After the sting wears off, Lancer Nation will take stock of how meaningful it was to follow up last year’s run with another strong season – not just back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time at any NCAA level in Longwood history, but also a second-place regular season finish, and record attendance in Willett Hall, where the Lancers finished 12-3 in front of their home fans.
It was also the fourth straight season the Lancers earned a bye in the Big South Tournament– after never achieving that in their first six seasons competing in the Big South. Among the individual accolades: Wilkins became the first player in program history to earn back-to-back All-Big South First Team honors. Wade was honorable mention for the second straight year, and Jesper Granlund was all-academic.
“As I told them, this one day in no way eliminates the foundation these guys have laid,” Aldrich said. “When DeShaun Wade came to Longwood, it was a vision of trying to build something … These guys have really laid an incredible foundation of raising the profile of Longwood basketball.
After addressing the media, Aldrich walked out with his arm around the shoulders of Wilkins, clearly despondent – but destined for Longwood lore along with Wade as the heart-and-soul of Longwood’s ascent these last two seasons, and the MVP of last year’s Big South Tournament.
“I’ll be honest. It’s been a challenge,” Wilkins said of his Longwood career under Aldrich. “But he told me from the jump, he was going to challenge me and stretch me, and not just on the court, about being a man. But I’m grateful for it.”
Next season brings the opening of the new Joan Perry Brock Center. There the Lancers will be fueled by a new era of fan excitement and the first recruiting class of student-athletes choosing Longwood in part for a chance to play in one of the top facilities in mid-major college basketball.
GETTING BACK TO THE TOP
But, having established a new standard for Lancer basketball, they’ll also be driven by a drive to get back to the top of the mountain after coming up short this year.
“It’s a joy to coach guys like Isaiah,” Aldrich said. “I’m tough on these guys. But I can say each one of the guys in our locker room is a man of character who is trying to grow and build. If that’s the foundation, it gives you an opportunity to compete at a high level every single year.”
“We want to embrace those new expectations. We’ll certainly miss the guys departing, but we’ll be excited to get back at it and add some new Lancers and compete for a championship in the new JPB next year.”