Longwood Lancers fall just short in 2023 season opener

Published 10:35 pm Monday, November 6, 2023

Things started out slow Monday night, as the Longwood Lancers tipped off the 2023-24 season. But by the end, the game against St. Bonaventure had turned into a back-and-forth competition, with the teams trading baskets. The Bonnies pulled out the 73-69 win, hitting multiple free throws in the final minute of play. 

This was a good way to test Longwood, as St. Bonaventure is one of the popular picks to win the Atlantic 10 this year. As for how they did in that test, there were positives and negatives for the Lancers in the first game of the season. Senior guard Walyn Napper struggled on the night, going 5 for 20 from the field and 0 for 6 from beyond the three-point arc, finishing with 14 points.

Napper’s struggles echoed that of a majority of the team, as the Lancers shot 38% from the field, going 23 for 60. Part of the problem was the fact they went cold from three, shooting just 18% or 3 for 17. By comparison, the Bonnies shot 46% or 27 of 59 from the field. Longwood also struggled to hold on to the ball, giving up 12 turnovers on the night. 

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Longwood Lancers Head Coach Griff Aldrich said after the game he recognized the issues, but was proud of how his team fought.

“We’ve got to understand and execute a lot better,” said Aldrich. “I thought on the defensive end, we competed, but there were too many details we didn’t execute well. Games like this are really valuable because every single one of those guys has a play that they would like to get back. And getting one or two plays back, maybe the outcome is different. This can be a great learning tool.

“This is a really eager team, but it is inexperienced. We’ll get better. Lancer Nation should be really excited about what they saw tonight. This is a team that, if they continue to keep building, we could be really good.”

Competing at a high level

That doesn’t mean all the takeaways from opening night were negative. Several players shined in their Longwood debut. Center Szymon Zapala put up a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. The 7’0 ft. Polish senior is a transfer from Utah State. And then there was Johnathan Massie, who had himself a night. The 6’6 ft. junior guard, who transferred from McNeese State, had 23 points on 7 of 12 shooting. They got some help from returning forward Michael Christmas. The second-year Lancer, who came over from James Madison, collected 11 rebounds to go with 10 points on the night. 

“Szymon, we challenged him to go out and be aggressive,” Aldrich said. “He is a very good player when he’s aggressive. Obviously, tonight, he was extremely aggressive. Mike was incredible. You get an offensive rebound, and not only is it an important play, but it is an incredible dagger to the defense.”

Aldrich also gave credit to Massie, saying he’s only going to get better.

“John-John was really great,” Aldrich said of the McNeese State transfer. “He shot the ball really well from three. He’s still trying to figure out that balance of being aggressive and picking his times versus just going. He’s going to continue to grow and get better.”

Up next for the Longwood Lancers

After Monday night’s game, the Longwood men’s basketball team heads back to Farmville for their home opener and the first official game in the Joan Perry Brock Center on Saturday, November 11. Longwood will host St. Mary’s College of Maryland to cap the Homecoming festivities. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+. 

Next week, Longwood goes on the road to take on Maryland Eastern Shore on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Then they return home on Sunday, Nov. 19 to take on North Carolina Central, before settling in for The Brock Challenge. 

What is The Brock Challenge? Fans will get six games at the Joan Perry Brock Center, spread over three days from Friday, November 24 to Sunday, November 26. Longwood, Lamar, Delaware State and Bethune Cookman make up the challenge field, with all four teams playing each other once over the three-day span.

The rest of Longwood’s non-conference schedule

  • Vs. Newport News Apprentice: Thursday, Nov. 30 
  • At Morgan State—Sunday, Dec. 3
  • At Delaware State—Saturday, Dec. 9
  • Vs. Gallaudet—Monday, Dec. 11
  • At Milwaukee—Wednesday, Dec. 13
  • Vs. VMI—Sunday, Dec. 17
  • At North Carolina Central—Wednesday, Dec. 20
  • At Dayton—Saturday, Dec. 30