Strong effort keys Longwood men’s basketball past UNC Asheville

Published 2:57 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Play with purpose and be connected. Two phrases that the Longwood men’s basketball staff uses constantly to encourage the team on its basketball journey.

On Wednesday night, the purpose and connection were exquisite in the second half, and the Lancer men (17-11, 5-8 Big South) took down UNC Asheville 80-75 that entered the day tied for first in the Big South Conference.

Breaking down the game

Walyn Napper provided a steady hand at the point with a team-best 16 points and seven assists, but he had help. The Lancers roared back after halftime, ripping off 51 points in the final 20 minutes in front of a passionate crowd to win their third straight game.

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While Napper set the table, Johnathan Massie closed the game. The junior scored the final seven points for Longwood, and grabbed the game-sealing rebound, to cap a comeback that saw Longwood erase a nine-point first-half deficit.

“I loved our second half purpose,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich. “I thought our guys really responded. I thought we got really frustrated in the first half and got disconnected. In the second half, we were really connected, stayed the course and if we can do that for 40 minutes, we’ll live with the results.”

Napper scored 10 of his 16 points after halftime, but it was his passing that unlocked the Lancers. Five of his seven assists came in the second half, and the team drilled 10-15 threes. Eight different players scored after halftime, and all nine that played scored in the game to help the team improve to 12-3 in the confines of the Joan Perry Brock Center.

Igniting in the second half

Six different Lancers hit a three in the second half. Michael Christmas led the charge from deep with three triples, the third time in four games he has hit at least three from downtown. He had 13 points.

“You think about the journey this team has been on,” Aldrich said. “It started out with a bang, then it kind of got punched in the mouth a couple times at the beginning of conference and was trying to find its identity. I really think after that Charleston Southern away game, I think our approach has been very different, and I credit Walyn Napper and DA Houston in large part for bringing a real sense of purpose. You see a team now that is becoming more and more confident and believing in itself. That’s a big thing.”

That confidence helped the Lancers overcome four Asheville (19-10, 11-3 Big South) players in double figures. Josh Banks had a game high 23 points, and Drew Pember added 17 points.

Longwood stayed the course despite trailing by as much as nine in the first half. Open shots refused to drop for Longwood as the team shot .310 (9-29) from the floor. That allowed Asheville to build a 35-26 lead, but Longwood trimmed it to six at the break.

A scintillating to start the second half put Longwood right back in the mix. Napper gave Longwood a 38-37 lead with a driving layup to cap a 9-2 run to start the half, and then he keyed another 9-0 run a few minutes later that put Longwood ahead for good.

Asheville rallied and trimmed the lead to 58-55, but Saxby Sunderland drained a three from the corner in front of the Longwood bench to put Longwood back up by two possessions with 9:39 to play.

“I thought we took really good shots in the first half, they just didn’t go in,” Aldrich said. “I think the ones in the second half might have been harder. Mike really banged a couple of good ones. Walyn hit a really tough one towards the end of the clock. But you had guys like Saxby step up, who doesn’t play a lot, who got an opportunity and makes a three. That’s a big play.”

Asheville didn’t go away and started to threaten late. However, Massie came through in the clutch. He drained a three from the wing for a 76-71 lead, and he made four straight free throws to close the game out in the final 30 seconds.

Next for Longwood men’s basketball

The Longwood men’s basketball team hits the road next for two straight, beginning with a trip to Radford on Saturday afternoon. Tip is set for 2 p.m. at the Dedmon Center. The game will air on ESPN+ and on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.