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Campbell capitalizes on "confident aggression", pulls away from Longwood in second half

CHARLOTTE – Plenty of drama remains in the 2023 Hercules Tires Big South Championships. One thing is now evident, however – when the confetti falls and the nets are cut Sunday, there will be a new champion.

After going nearly 27 minutes without leading the game, Campbell outscored Longwood, 33-20, over the final 13:19 and ran away with an 81-68 victory over the second-seeded Lancers in Friday’s quarterfinals at Bojangles’ Coliseum.

“(That was) a tremendous win for our program today,” Campbell coach Kevin McGeehan said after the game. “Longwood’s been a really, really good basketball program for a long time now – two full seasons. It took a little extra level of grit and toughness. I thought our guys were amazing at executing on short amount of time all the things that we tried to do in the game. I just think that our guys had an unbelievable belief in each other and what we could do. Give them all the credit for doing it.”

Longwood (20-12) controlled the game for the entire first half, taking 10-point leads on two separate occasions. The Lancers put up a solid 50 percent from the field (14-for-28) in the half, taking a 41-35 margin to the interval. Longwood continued its tenuous grip on the lead through the first six-plus minutes of the period, before the prolonged Campbell ascent finally reached the summit on a Jay Pal bucket.

Campbell (15-17) seized control from there, never again trailing. After the Lancers squared the game at 52, the Camels ripped off a 14-0 burst – keyed by six points from Pal – that afforded Campbell a 66-52 advantage with 8:54 to play. The run broke the back of the defending champs, who never again trailed by fewer than double digits.

A thorough inspection of the statistics reveals many things – perhaps most importantly an 0-for-12 shooting performance from beyond the arc in the second half. The defensive intensity was a point of pride for Campbell guard Ricky Clemons.

“At halftime, we knew we’d kept it close up to that point, but there were things we could do better,” Clemons said. “We were just focused on coming out, being intense, and just being locked in at all times. We were focused, man, and we were tough. We knew that was what it gonna take to get the win.

“We kinda knew – everybody knows that threes are the biggest equalizer in basketball. We were just trying to run them off the line or close out with high hands and make them put it on the ground or do something else.”

“We talked about coming into this game with a confident aggression, and I thought our guys responded to that really well,” McGeehan said. “I think that plus the defensive changes of pace that we gave them probably both helped significantly. We made three threes and won a conference tournament game going away. There’s some real toughness to this group.”

Longwood coach Griff Aldrich reflected after the game on his team’s performance and how the standard has changed in Farmville.

“I thought tonight was obviously a disappointing outing for us,” Aldrich said. “I thought (Campbell) was the more aggressive team. They looked like they had been the team that hadn’t played on Wednesday. Credit to them for coming out and attacking right from the get-go. I thought we on our heels for most of the game.

“One of the things that we have battled throughout the season with this particular group is just a level of inconsistency and being able to complete plays or complete a possession or just complete 40 minutes. I think, unfortunately, that bit us again tonight,” Aldrich continued. “As I told them, this one day in no way eliminates the foundation that these guys have laid. These guys have really laid an incredible foundation of raising the profile of Longwood basketball. It’s disappointing – but pretty incredible – to say Longwood won 20 games and we’re disappointed. That’s a credit to these guys and the work that they’ve put in. I think the future’s really bright, in large part because of the foundation that these selfless guys have laid.”

Pal led the Camels with a double-double, tallying 23 points and securing 11 caroms. Pal hit 8-of-14 tries from the deck and made 6-of-7 from the line. Freshman of the Year Anthony Dell’Orso added 20 for the Camels, knocking down 6-of-10 from the field and 7-of-7 from the stripe. Clemons tallied 18 on 7-of-9 shooting, while Joshua Lusane scored 11 for Campbell. Campbell shot 56 percent (14-for-25) in the second half, helping to seal the victory.

Isaiah Wilkins guided Longwood with 23, knocking down 9-of-14 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line. Forward Michael Christmas added 15 on 5-for-7 shooting. Longwood shot 41.8 percent (23-for-55) for the game but hit just 4-of-25 tries (16 percent) from distance. The Lancers put home 78.3 percent (18-of-23) from the line.

Campbell advances to Saturday’s second semifinal, where they will take on third-seeded Radford. Game time is set for 2:00 (Eastern), with streaming available via ESPN+.

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