Longwood men struggle in road loss despite career night for Tucker

Published 2:09 am Friday, February 2, 2024

In an electric atmosphere, it felt like High Point couldn’t miss on Thursday night against Longwood men’s basketball at the Qubein Center.

Kezza Giffa led the way for the Panthers (19-4, 8-0 Big South) to win their eighth straight. He had 24 points and multiple huge triples in a 93-76 win, but High Point shot 61 percent from the floor on the night. Trae Benham added 18 points on five threes, and Kimani Hamilton had 16.

Despite High Point’s hot shooting, the Lancers (14-9, 2-6 Big South) refused to fold and battled back after halftime in a game that felt closer than the final margin.

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“First off, I was really proud of the guys’ effort in the second half,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich. “Came out in an electric atmosphere, I think we kind of got punched, High Point’s making shots, things are going really well for them, and I don’t think we responded great in the first half. They had a choice to make. I was really proud that they came out and fought in the second half, thought we executed. I thought we sat down and defended much better in the second half.

“Credit High Point, they made shots all night. It felt a little bit like Gardner-Webb again at the end of a clock, where they’re making tough threes. But you have to give them credit for making the plays.”

Breaking down the game

Elijah Tucker provided a massive lift for Longwood with a career best 22 rebounds and six boards, four of them on the offensive glass. The redshirt-sophomore went 6-6 at the foul line and 8-12 from the floor with repeated rolls to the rack.

He and Johnathan Massie, who chipped in 12 points, provided a lift off the bench, and Walyn Napper added 14 points and eight assists.

The two sides were even early on, but Benham got hot for High Point. The lefty drained four first half threes to help High Point turn a one-possession game into a 50-31 halftime lead.

After halftime, Longwood found its footing. Despite High Point’s sustained hot streak, the Lancers muscled their way back into the game with a little grit.

The Lancer defense generated stops by forcing 10 High Point turnovers after halftime, and Tucker, along with Napper and Massie, led the charge to the rim. Tucker powered home 10 points in the second half, and Napper added eight points while serving as a potent partner with Tucker in the pick-and-roll.

‘More of an attacking mindset’

“Elijah’s really come along this year,” Aldrich added. “I thought John-John Massie was really good as well. They just played with electricity and fearlessness, and I think they really positively impacted the game. I thought we were too tentative in the first half, particularly offensively. You saw more of an attacking mindset in the second half.”

Down 21 after the Panthers only missed one shot in the first part of the second half, the Lancers reeled off a 13-2 run to cut the deficit to 72-62. Five guys scored in the run, and the defense held High Point to one made shot in the almost five minute stretch.

The Lancers had chances to cut the lead inside 10, but the ball refused to drop in. Finally, Giffa hit a dagger three with 1:40 remaining that put the game out of reach.

“One thing that I shared with the team is, this is a journey for us,” Aldrich said. “Obviously you never want to lose. But as I told them, the thing that I’m really focused on is, are we playing well. I thought in the second half, we played well. I’m not looking for moral victories.

“What I’m looking for is, are we playing well so that this team can mature and learn what is required for us to compete against the top teams in the Big South. I think we got another data point, but we get an opportunity on Saturday to go out and see if we will compete like we did in the second half.”

Up next for Longwood

Longwood stays on the road with a trip to Charleston Southern on Saturday afternoon. Tip is set for 2 p.m. The game will stream on ESPN+ and air on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.