Longwood men win on Napper’s last-second shot

Published 9:05 pm Saturday, March 2, 2024

On Senior Night in the JPB, during a ferocious battle with the league’s top team, Walyn Napper saved his best for last. It was a major milestone for the Longwood men, who move up in the conference tournament as a result. 

After DA Houston’s key defensive stop with 5.6 seconds left, Napper took the ball from three-quarters court, drove for the rim and banked in a looping layup with 0.6 seconds remaining, sending Longwood past first-place High Point 74-72, and sparking a Lancer crowd that included many of his own family into a frenzy.

Mark it as the greatest, most exciting win yet in the young history of the Joan Perry Brock Center.

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“That’s like you plan it in your driveway countdown, shooting around by yourself,” Napper said. “DA got that stop, and as soon I came to the huddle I said ‘it’s game time.’ It’s a great to go out and finish in the JPB.”

With a loss, Longwood (18-13, 6-10 Big South) would have been a 9-seed destined for a play-in game in next week’s Hercules Tires Big South Tournament. But thanks to Napper’s heroics, they’ll rocket up to No. 5 seed and play Winthrop (24-7, 13-3 Big South) next Friday.

Longwood men spark surge of momentum

More than that, the Lancers now have a surge of momentum, having now beaten the league’s top two teams in their final two home games of the inaugural season in the Joan Perry Brock Arena.

“I think it was a tremendous performance by the guys,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich. “I thought we probably played 37 minutes of high intensity, competitive basketball against a very good team. To come out on top is a significant moment for this team because they have believed that they are that good, but to then come out and then beat the number one team, it gives them that added confidence as they go into the tournament.”

The win was also redemption after Longwood rallied from 22 down after halftime on Thursday only to lose to Gardner-Webb on free throws in the final second. Despite a day’s less rest than High Point, Longwood played with energy, and Napper was ready when the game was on the line.

“As soon as DA got the stop, I went over and sat down and talked to God for about five seconds and said give me the strength to make this shot,” said Napper, who scored 13 points and added six assists. “And when I got the ball, all I saw was the rim. I knew if I got it off there’d be a good chance I’d make it.”

“I don’t know if you can quote this, but I literally prayed today that this would be his best game at Longwood,” Aldrich added. “Walyn hits not only a huge three but also the game winner on a night where he scores his 1,000th point. It’s just providential of everything coming together at once for a young man who has really battled to not only grow as a basketball player, but much more importantly, he has grown significantly as a young man. And I think that’s why you see the success he’s having now is really as a result of his character growth—and some improvement in talent—but he’s really grown as a young man.”

Team sets the table with defense

As fitting as it was that Napper scored the final basket, it was equally as fitting that grit, defense and rebounding set the table for Napper’s heroics.

The Longwood men held the top offense in the Big South to .412 shooting from the floor, and the Lancers outrebounded High Point 41-31 behind 15 offensive boards.

After leading by one after 20 minutes, Longwood boosted the lead to 13 early in the second half with a quick burst. Johnathan Massie played a part, as did Houston. Massie had 13 of his 16 points after halftime, and Houston added eight of his 15, all at the foul line, in the second half as well.

High Point, and some three-point fireworks from Abdoulaye Thiam, managed to creep back into the game. Thiam hit four triples, three after halftime, while going off for a game high 21 points to help lift the visitors back into the game.

Eventually, High Point took the lead at 72-70 with a pair of foul shots with 35 seconds left from Kimani Hamilton.

The Longwood grit kicked in, and the team refused to lose. Napper darted to the rim, but his layup was off to the right. Szymon Zapala was there for a stickback that tied the game at 72. Zapala finished with 13 points and nine boards, including five on the offensive glass.

Then, Houston ushered High Point’s Duke Miles out of bounds on High Point’s final possession to set the stage for Napper’s last second heroics.

Longwood men prepare for Friday

“Tonight, I think you saw them come out and compete right from the get-go and put two halves together of really good basketball and execute when they needed to execute and fend off a team that was really shooting the ball well,” Aldrich said. “We have been wanting to have five players on the court playing well at the same time. I’m not sure we achieved that completely tonight, but we were a heck of a lot closer to that tonight than we have been in the past.”

Longwood opens the 2024 Hercules Tires Big South Championship on Friday, March 2 at 2 p.m. as the five seed, and they will take on Winthrop, the four seed at the Qubein Center in High Point. The game will air on ESPN+ and on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.