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Longwood continues embracing the hunted role, moves to Big South semifinals with overtime win

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

CHARLOTTE – Longwood seems to be getting used to this.

The Lancers keep playing close games. Their fans keep experiencing the same stress – or, as one said on Twitter during Friday’s quarterfinal – shortness of breath. Their coach might not sleep as well some nights.

Still, despite the late-game theatrics, the Lancers keep doing what championship teams do – winning.

After watching a 10-point second-half lead achingly drip away, then having a final look miss the mark after two missed free throws on the other end, Longwood proved to everyone in extra time why the Lancers are the top seed.

Justin Hill poured in 10 of the Lancers’ 16 points in the bonus frame, knocking down all six free throws he tried in helping guide top-seeded Longwood to a 79-65 result over ninth-seeded North Carolina A&T Friday afternoon at Bojangles’ Coliseum. With the win, the Lancers advance to Saturday’s semifinals to play either fourth-seeded Upstate or 12th-seeded Charleston Southern.

“I think these guys – I think it really goes back to the chemistry that they have and the confidence that they have in one another and in themselves,” said Longwood coach Griff Aldrich when examining his team’s ability to navigate similar situations. “These guys have worked so hard for months on end – and I know a lot of teams do – but I think their confidence is built in the work that they’ve put in.

“I still think the biggest thing is that they have an uncanny ability to – when things get tight, they calm down. I think that helps them to focus in on their principles and their execution. I think that’s something they’ve been excellent at all year.”

Hill, for his part, echoed his coach.

“We don’t get too down on ourselves when things don’t go our way. We just like to say to stay the course, and I feel like we’re really good at doing that. Just sticking to our principles, I think, that really helps us finish games. When it’s on the line, we know exactly what to do.

“It was a little too close,” Hill added regarding his strong finish. “I like to just try to make plays and see if I can squeeze through tight spaces sometimes and try to see if my teammates are open or if I can get a layup. I just take what I can take.”

If there was any pressure on the Lancers around being the top seed, it didn’t seem to show.

“Honestly, I didn’t feel there was any pressure at all. We’re the ones that got the bye,” DeShaun Wade said. “We’re the ones that were rested. We came out ready to go. Coach has been telling us that all we’ve gotta do is just stick to what we’ve been doing all year and stick to being ourselves. That’s all we were thinking about.”

Hill and Wade certainly played huge roles – they combined for 41 points and each knocked down six shots – but many of the small things they did made huge impacts. Hill got to the line 14 times, hitting 12. The duo combined for 12 boards. Hill dished five of his team’s 10 assists. Zac Watson joined the pair, grabbing seven more rebounds and scoring 12 points. Isaiah Wilkins recorded a double-double, scoring 15 and pulling in 12 caroms.

Aldrich pulled no punches when asked why A&T had played his Lancers so well in three games this season – including having dealt Longwood its lone Big South loss.

“They’re a good team,” Aldrich said. “They’re a big, physical team … I think we’re starting to get people’s best shots. They’re a really good team, they’re a talented team. If they put it together on any given day, watch out. I thought they played pretty well throughout.”

Marcus Watson scored 27 for the Aggies, grabbing 12 boards. The Aggie standout’s play loomed even larger in the absence of forward Collin Smith, who missed the game with a bone bruise in his foot. Jeremy Robinson and Demetric Horton added 12 apiece for the Aggies, keeping their team within striking distance for much of the day.

Still, A&T coach Will Jones put a fine point on what he saw from his team Friday.

“These guys fought. We had our chances to control our own destiny,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, as a coach, you look back and make sure these guys were prepared to go out there and execute and have a good chance to win against a good Longwood team.

“We had them on the ropes in regulation. If we handled our business, we’d be in the locker room celebrating right now.”


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