Longwood battle with Gardner-Webb goes down to final minute

Published 12:20 am Friday, March 1, 2024

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BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Thursday night was a tale of two halves for Longwood men’s basketball at Gardner-Webb.

In the opening 20 minutes, almost everything Gardner-Webb (15-15, 10-5 Big South) put up went in from three. In the final 20 minutes, Longwood (17-13, 5-10 Big South) erased a 22-point deficit by roaring back into the game.

Unfortunately for Longwood, Gardner-Webb’s DQ Nicholas hit three free throws with 1.2 seconds left to give the home side a 72-69 win. Nicholas finished with 12 points for GWU.

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“”On the one hand, I couldn’t have been more disgusted in the first half,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich. “But then in the second half, you couldn’t be more proud. Honestly, what we saw, this has been our season. A team that struggles to compete, struggles to come out with an execution mindset, relatively sloppy in the first half, and then a team that also has the ability to come out and really impose its will. I’m the head coach. It’s my job to press the right buttons to get them to understand and to do things the right way, and I haven’t been able to do that. That’s on me.”

Gardner-Webb hit 12 threes in the opening half en route to a 50-28 lead at the break, with Lucas Stieber scoring 14 of his 20 points in the half. He had a career best five threes in the game. Nicholas added three triples in the first half as well, and six players made a three for Gardner-Webb in the first 20 minutes. 

Longwood locked in

In the final 20 minutes Longwood locked in, and the Lancers held Gardner-Webb to six made field goals behind a ferocious defense led by freshman Emanuel Richards.

“Emanuel has just really matured,” Aldrich said about the freshman. “You see this with freshman. Different freshman mature at different times, and they blossom at different times. That’s obviously the case for Emanuel. He has really blossomed here in the last four weeks. I thought he did an incredible job defensively in the second half. I know he scored 13 points, but he was much impressive to me with how he sat down and defended. Really impressive for a freshman. He was guarding DQ Nicholas, a fifth year senior, and DQ was having a really hard time.”

With Richards at the point of attack, Longwood forced 10 turnovers. On the other end, Richards and Elijah Tucker led a charge to the glass as Longwood snared 11 offensive rebounds after halftime. Richards had a career high 13 points to go with five rebounds, and Tucker added 11 points and nine boards.

“Elijah is the same way [as Richards] with his energy,” Aldrich said of the forward. “He’s a very dynamic player. Elijah hasn’t played for two years. Some of these guys who haven’t played, they’re just starting to get their sea legs. They’ve been practicing, but it’s very different when you’re in games. So I think Elijah is just getting better and better. I though Szymon was more impressive tonight and did some really nice things, a better version of him, so that was good.

Their energy, coupled with 10 second half points from Walyn Napper—who had 14 in the game—allowed the Lancers to slowly whittle away at the 22-point advantage.

Cutting the lead

Longwood cut the lead to 10 on a DA Houston three with 7:30 to play, and Gardner-Webb didn’t score a basket over the final 9:26.

Michael Christmas cut the lead to single digits with a deuce, and Szymon Zapala powered home a slam dunk off a pass from Walyn Napper that cut the lead to six.

Richards kept leading the defense to stops, and then Napper scored four straight to cut the lead to 69-67.

Richards bulldozed his way to an offensive board and putback to knot the game at 69 all with 1:38 to play.

Both sides came up empty on their next few possessions before Nicholas was fouled shooting a straightaway, stepback three with 1.2 seconds left to break the deadlock from the foul line.

What’s next for Longwood?

Longwood returns to Farmville to host High Point in the regular season finale on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Joan Perry Brock Center.

“The biggest thing for Longwood basketball is fighting for our culture, fighting for our team,” Aldrich added. “That second half, that’s who we want to be. The first half is rough to watch, probably for the fans too. The reality is, we’ve been fighting to be that second half team. We’ve got one more game left, and we’ve got the tournament.”

The game will air on ESPN+ and on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country. Tickets are still available for the game at www.longwoodlancers.com/tickets.