Longwood battles to the end, but falls short at Dayton

Published 11:15 pm Saturday, December 30, 2023

An upset-minded Longwood men’s basketball squad battled to the final horn at Dayton on Saturday night at a sold-out UD Arena.

Unfortunately, the Lancers (12-3) came up just short as Dayton (10-2) rode 27 points from DaRon Homes II, one of the top players in the nation, to a 78-69 win that was closer than the final score.

Dayton needed a huge game from Holmes after Longwood played one of their finest halves of the season in the opening 20 minutes. The Lancers, who have won 10 of their first 15 games for the third straight season for the first time in four decades, had four players score in double figures thanks to a spread attack. Johnathan Massie leading the way with 15 points, but Michael Christmas and Walyn Napper had 12 points apiece and Elijah Tucker chipped in 11.

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However, Holmes, and one of the top three-point attacks in the nation, had every answer in the final 20 minutes. In addition to his points, Holmes had 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks.

“First off, I’m really proud of the guys,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich. “I thought we really battled against a very talented team that’s going to win a lot of games. I was really proud that they competed the way they did. I thought our first half was absolutely some of the best basketball we’ve played all season. At the end of the day, we’ve been talking a lot with the guys about execution and needing to execute. There were too many mistakes down the stretch.”

 Breaking down the game

At the beginning of the game, Christmas was sensational to quiet a crowd of 13,407 with seven of the team’s first 10 points in the opening minutes of the game. He hit a three on the game’s first possession, and the Lancers were on a roll. Christmas finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in the game.

The defense made things difficult for a Dayton team that came in receiving votes in the AP Top 25 and was the preseason favorite in the A-10, and Longwood seized a 25-17 lead.

“They really played composed,” Aldrich said of his team’s first half. “The whole team did. Michael made the shots, but I thought in the first half we got good shot after good shot after good shot. That’s a credit to the entire group, really trying to run the offense. I’m constantly saying how we need to move the ball and move, and I thought the guys did a beautiful job of that in the first half.”

Holmes responded for Dayton and found Javon Bennett for a triple before hitting one of his own on the next possession to cut the Lancer lead to two.

Longwood bounced right back, with the guard tandem of Napper (six assists), DA Houston (eight points, three assists) and Massie repeatedly finding the Lancer big men for buckets in the interior.

The two sides traded blows over the final minutes of the first half. Szymon Zapala, who had nine points and 10 rebounds, twirled in a layup for a six-point advantage, but Holmes answered with another three as time expired to trim the Longwood lead to 37-34 at the break.

 Longwood battles after halftime

After halftime, Holmes again featured heavily for the home side, but he had Kobe Elvis hit back-to-back threes to give Dayton its first lead of the night.

The Lancers answered, and Elijah Tucker sank two foul shots a few minutes later to give Longwood a 45-41 lead. Tucker finished with 11 points, his fourth game in double figures for the Lancers.

Holmes, much like he was all night, had the answer again. He scored four straight to tie the game, and then Dayton’s three-point snipers got hot. Back-to-back threes gave Dayton a 51-47 lead, and the Flyers would never relinquish it.

The lead grew to 60-48 with 7:48 to play, but the Lancers refused to fold. Christmas muscled home an offensive rebound to jumpstart a 7-0 Longwood run that trimmed the margin to 60-55. That was as close as the Lancers would get the rest of the way.

“I thought we were amped in the first half, and I thought we came out flat in the second half,” Aldrich said. “I didn’t feel like we were playing with the same level of intensity and urgency. Then there was a surge where they got up 12, and we fought back. It happened on the defensive end. We were getting stops and getting out in transition, making some shots, and playing Longwood basketball. We were the aggressor during that stretch. In the first call it 10 minutes of the second half, I didn’t think we were the aggressor. I thought we got outcompeted.”

Up next for Longwood

Non-conference play is complete for the Lancers, and they open Big South play on the road at Winthrop on Wednesday, January 3. Tip is set for 6:30 p.m. with the game streaming on ESPN+ and on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.

“It’s going to be a gauntlet starting out with Winthrop, Charleston Southern, Radford and UNC Asheville,” Aldrich said about the beginning of Big South play. “We’re going to have to be playing some of our best basketball. We’re going to have to elevate our game. This is going to be quite the stretch here out of the gate.”