Slow start causes Longwood to suffer first loss at JPB Center

Published 3:20 am Friday, January 12, 2024

An early first half deficit proved to be too much for Longwood men’s basketball to claw back from on Thursday night at the Joan Perry Brock Center against Radford.

The Highlander (11-6, 1-1 Big South) duo of DaQuan Smith and Kenyon Giles powered Radford to an early lead en route to a 69-58 win.

Smith muscled home 21 points, and Giles added 20 while draining a variety of difficult jumpers to quiet a boisterous, passionate Lancer crowd.

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That was enough to fend off a Longwood (13-5, 1-2 Big South) comeback effort keyed by Walyn Napper and Szymon Zapala, who combined for 31 points.

“I thought we got outcompeted,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich. “It was very clear over the course of the game. We had stretches where we outcompeted them, where we clawed back into the game. But the two key takeaways: we’re not playing hard enough, and we’re not executing at the level that we need to. It was very disappointing, to start the game down 10-2, and it was like we weren’t ready to play. My fault.”

Breaking down the Longwood game

Radford staked itself to an early lead by hitting five of its first six shots and shooting .556 (15-27) from the floor in the first 20 minutes. Giles had nine points in the first half. Radford extended the lead to 16 points before the Lancers found purchase.

“This is disappointing because it feels like it has become a pattern with this group,” Aldrich added. “It’s not who Longwood basketball’s been. This group is too comfortable just playing with competition as opposed to trying to impose their will. I thought we got manhandled on the boards in the first half. If Radford didn’t get a wide open shot, if they didn’t make it, they either got the rebound or got hands on it. Just not tough enough. I’m obviously being very blunt. But extremely disappointing performance by us tonight.”

A late 7-2 Longwood run trimmed the Radford lead to 33-22. Michael Christmas scoring seven of his nine in the first half, and Napper added seven points as well.

After halftime, Zapala sparked Longwood with five quick points. He finished an and-one under the rim to jumpstart a 9-2 run, and he ended the game with 11 points.

Elijah Tucker capped the Longwood flurry with a huge putback slam that made the students roar as Longwood cut the lead to 35-31.

Smith answered with a layup the next time down the floor to stem the tide. He had 13 points in the second half, and the Highlanders pushed the lead back to 11.

Napper started to head up for Longwood, and he repeatedly attacked the basket. He sliced his way to 13 points after halftime to help Longwood hang around. His foul shots with 10:27 to go cut the Radford lead to 46-41.

Giles took over down the stretch and buried three triples, each of increasing difficulty, to help Radford fend off the Lancers in the final six minutes.

“We have to compete harder than the other team,” Aldrich said. “We are not good enough to just go out and play the game and hope to win. And that’s what we’re doing right now. And if we don’t elevate our level of competition, and if we don’t elevate our level of focus on executing details—we turned the ball over 15 times. That’s been our emphasis the past two days. And we come down on fast breaks and we whip it around. If we don’t change that, we’re not going to be a very good basketball team. It’s going to be a very hard conference season. Execution is the highest form of competition, and we are not competing at a high level right now.”

What’s next for the Lancers?

Longwood faces a short turnaround and heads to UNC Asheville for a Saturday afternoon tipoff at 2 p.m. The game will stream on ESPN+ and on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.