Longwood struggles against top-seeded Houston, exits tournament

Published 1:12 am Saturday, March 23, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

It was a gift they’ll always carry with them, and that Lancer Nation will never forget. Starting in late February, a close-knit Longwood team that had struggled at times but never lost faith proved it could find the greatness it always knew lay inside.

Over two magical weeks, the Lancers bested the very top teams in the Big South, earning a third-straight 20-win season and a Big South conference championship few expected. The prize: a second trip in three years to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – and a chance to play on the brightest stage in college sports.

But the tragic beauty of March Madness is that almost every college basketball season ends with disappointment and even some tears. For Longwood, the 2023-24 season reached its finish late Friday at the hands of No. 1 seed Houston, 86-46, in a first-round tournament matchup.

Email newsletter signup

“Obviously tonight was not the Lancers’ night, but extremely proud of our guys to get to the tournament,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich. “The resilience and the character that they’ve shown throughout the year to battle the ups and downs, and their genuine love for one another is why they here. Extremely proud of this team and what they’ve accomplished.”

Longwood falls against nation’s top team

The Lancers (21-14) hoped to become just the third the third No. 16 seed ever to defeat a No. 1 seed in the men’s tournament. But they met their match in a Houston squad that spent much of the season as the top-ranked team in the nation. Playing relentless, swarming defense that kept Longwood off-balance all night, the Cougars (31-4) jumped to a 10-0 lead and – save for one Lancer run midway through the first half – snuffed out every effort to get back in the game.

Jonathan Massie led Longwood with 10 points. Walyn Napper score 8 in his final game for the Lancers, who played hard until the final horn, even after the game was well out of reach.

“They earned my respect tonight,” Napper said of Houston. “There’s a reason why they’re one of the best teams in the nation, if not the best team.”

Hundreds of Lancer faithful made the trip to Memphis, gathering on Beale St. for pre-game festivities and lining up to send off the team bus from a nearby hotel. They cheered to the end and offered a standing ovation as the Lancers departed the floor.

It was a long way from the miraculous result they dared to dream. But once the dust settles, the story of the season will be that Longwood has established a program able not just to reach the tournament once, but to carry the university’s name and story to the national stage repeatedly.

‘I’m just very thankful’

For the players, there was little consolation in the moment. They came didn’t come to just to experience March Madness. They wanted to win a game, and believed they could.

But there was also already perspective on the journey.

“I love this group of guys. I love the coaches,” Napper said. “I don’t know how I can repay them, but I’m just very thankful just to be in this moment, live out the dream that we all had as kids.”