ROCK HILL, S.C. – It had to feel a little familiar for Longwood.
In a season where a still-growing Lancer squad has seen leads slip away more than once and facing a Winthrop team tied atop the Big South Conference, seeing the Eagles go on a second-half run to cut into the deficit could have left first-year head coach Griff Aldrich and his club waiting for it to happen again.
Not this time.
Instead, Longwood weathered that storm and delivered what it hopes will be a turning point victory in this still-relatively-young season. Redshirt senior guard Isaiah Walton delivered 30 points on 12-for-21 shooting, seemingly willing his side to counter every Winthrop punch and deliver the Eagles a stinging, 75-61, defeat before an announced crowd of 1,916 at Winthrop Coliseum Wednesday night.
“They’re a really good team. I think we feel very fortunate to come out of here with a win,” said Aldrich. “It’s always hard to win on the road … I thought the guys really competed at a high level tonight.”
The tempo started very much to the liking of both sides, with the score level at 10 at the first media break. As quickly as the jump from the start line may have been, the sides just as rapidly jammed on the brakes. The teams combined to miss 23 straight shots, scoring just four total points in a nearly seven-minute span that ground the game to a halt.
A Juan Munoz three broke the seal, stretching the Lancer lead to six. Winthrop (11-6, 3-1 Big South) almost immediately answered with a Charles Falden three keying an 8-2 burst that drew the game level at 19. Longwood (12-7, 2-2) responded, going on a 12-4 run over the final six minutes of the half to notch a 31-23 advantage at the interval.
Longwood’s active defense stymied Winthrop in the opening twenty, holding the Eagles to just 18.2 percent (6-for-33) from the field. 21 of those tries came from distance, with only four finding the mark.
“I thought we were really good (on defense),” said Aldrich. “I thought we gave up some open threes in the first half … but I thought we played really hard. With Longwood, I think that’s one of our big things is for us to learn to play with high effort at a consistent level.”
The Lancers quickly inflated their lead in the early going of the second half, with an emphatic JaShaun Smith dunk from the left baseline stretching the lead to 15 and drawing the Longwood bench to its feet.
Winthrop gradually chipped away at the advantage, turning a loose ball into a thunderous Jermaine Ukaegbu dunk off a runout and reducing the Longwood lead to 11. Aldrich nearly leapt onto the floor to demand a stoppage, perhaps sensing the tide about to turn. The stoppage drew the club together and allowed a renewed focus.
“There (was) still a little bit of the, ‘uh oh, is it is the same old thing again?’,” said Aldrich of the feeling creeping over the club. “We were up 14 (in a 71-63 loss in the Big South opener) against Radford, and up seven, and you could just kind of feel it slip away a little bit. The competitive teams, the championship-level teams, they’re urgent about every possession, and they are highly focused. We talk about competing, but we also talk about being focused on the details.
“I said, ‘Guys, this is fun. You’re playing the top team in the league on the road. You’re in a great spot. Go play hard, and leave nothing on the court.’ I think they did that,” Aldrich added.
The run Aldrich knew was coming from the team he called the top team in the league came. This time, though, his club answered.
Winthrop ripped off an 11-2 sequence a couple of minutes after that fateful stoppage that knifed the margin to seven and briefly returned the fire to the garnet-and-gold-clad Eagle supporters. Longwood absorbed the blow, however, allowing the home side to advance no further than a seven-point deficit and delivering a win its coach hoped would be one on which it would look back as a turning point at the end of a successful season.
Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey matter-of-factly addressed the result in comments to the media after the game.
“Give Griff and their staff and their players a lot of credit. They kicked our butt in really all areas,” said Kelsey. “I think we’re a very good offensive team, and they held us to 27 percent (shooting), 25 percent from three.”
Walton’s 12-for-21 effort yielded 30 points to lead Longwood and all scorers, to go along with seven rebounds. Smith added 12 in 29 minutes, providing several key plays to energize the Lancers.
Guard Nych Smith led Winthrop with 14, despite connecting on just 6-of-21 shots from the field. Forward Josh Ferguson added 12 for the Eagles.
The win was the Lancers’ 12th on the season, marking the first time Longwood has reached that mark since finishing the 2010-11 season with a 12-19 mark. Graduate student Damarion Geter also recorded his 100th career block, good for fourth all-time among Lancer defenders.
Both teams continue league play Saturday in the Palmetto State. Longwood travels to Clinton, South Carolina, to take on Presbyterian. That game is slated to begin at 4:00 (Eastern). Winthrop will trek to the G.B. Hodge Center in Spartanburg to battle USC Upstate, in a 4:30 tip.
LONGWOOD 75, WINTHROP 61
LONGWOOD (12-7, 2-2 BIG SOUTH): Franklin 1-3 0-0 2, Smith 5-8 1-3 12, Geter 2-5 0-0 4, Phillips 2-10 4-4 9, Wilson 2-5 1-1 6, Adgei 1-2 0-2 2, Flood 1-5 1-2 4, Cintron 0-0 0-0 0, Munoz 2-2 0-0 6. Totals 28-61 11-16 75.
WINTHROP (11-6, 3-1 BIG SOUTH): Awad 0-1 0-0 0, Ferguson 3-8 4-4 12, Anumba 1-3 5-6 7, Pickett 2-5 0-0 6, Zunic 2-7 2-2 8, Smith 6-21 1-2 14, Falden 1-3 2-2 5, Broman 1-13 2-2 5, Ukaegbu 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 17-63 16-18.
Halftime — Longwood 31-23. 3-Point Goals—Longwood 8-26 (Smith 1-3, Phillips 1-6, Wilson 1-2, Walton 2-9, Flood 1-4, Munoz 2-2), Winthrop 9-36 (Awad 0-1, Ferguson 2-6, Anumba 0-1, Pickett 2-3, Zunic 2-7, Smith 1-7, Falden 1-3, Broman 1-8). Fouled Out — NA. Rebounds — Winthrop 45 (Pickett 11), Longwood 38 (Geter 10). Assists — Longwood 11 (Phillips/Walton 3), Winthrop 11 (Pickett 4). Total Fouls — Longwood 21, Winthrop 15. Technical — NA. A — 1916.
Points in the Paint —Longwood 28, Winthrop 18. Points off Turnovers —Longwood 24, Winthrop 15. Second-Chance Points — Winthrop 9, Longwood 7. Fast Break Points — Winthrop 2, Longwood 0. Bench Points — Longwood 42, Winthrop 26.
CURRENT BIG SOUTH STANDINGS