After the Longwood men’s basketball team came out sluggish in both halves Monday against Campbell, head coach Griff Aldrich reiterated what he said to the team before the game started – they needed to up the effort and play with a purpose.
The Lancers did just that in both periods, fighting back for the lead both times, eventually avenging their previous loss to the Camels earlier this season, gutting out a 57-56 win in a defensive battle as they fight to host a Big South tournament game in March. Despite falling behind early in both halves, the Lancers answered the call when needed most.
“I was really disappointed with how we started the game and how we started the second half,” Aldrich said. “There was passivity, there was a lack of aggressiveness, we’ve been talking about that non-stop that we have to play with effort.”
Senior guard Shabooty Phillips started for the Lancers in place of redshirt sophomore guard Juan Munoz, who went down hard on his leg against Winthrop, for the first time since Jan. 11. Phillips finished tied with three others in scoring with nine points. Senior forward JaShaun Smith, freshman forward Leslie Nkereuwem and sophomore forward Christian Wilson also finished with nine points.
No Lancer finished in double-figure scoring for the first time this season.
Freshman guard Heru Bligen made arguably the biggest plays of the game on both sides of the ball, coming up with two steals on Campbell’s final two possessions when Longwood led by one, as well as aggressive drives to the basket leading to all-important points. Aldrich relied on Bligen to step up in the absence of Munoz, and he delivered.
“My coach and my teammates believed in me,” Bligen said. “It was a great team win across the board, everyone did a great job. It was a great team effort.”
Aldrich echoed this, while praising the freshman’s career performance thus far, coming up with game-changing plays.
“(He had a) major impact tonight,” Aldrich said. “Heru’s energy, his effort, was significant. He’s active on defense, he’s a big, physical body, and we really need that.”
Campbell shot 47.8 percent compared to Longwood’s 50 percent in a stellar shooting display in the first half, though was a completely different story in the second period, as both teams combined for only 17 made field goals.
Aldrich thought the team didn’t play up to how he envisioned, but the effort and big plays made in crunch time – both on offense and defense – turned out to be the difference.
“I thought we played really hard, I thought we played tough defense, but I thought our offense was good enough,” Aldrich said. “Credit them, we struggled against Campbell’s defense, they did a great job against us, but we found a way to win, and I think that’s a big deal.”
In terms of confidence and believing in themselves, Monday night’s victory is absolutely a “big deal” – especially following their gut-wrenching loss to formerly unbeaten Winthrop on Feb. 8. Their bounce-back win against Campbell is part of a four wins in six games span to bring Longwood to 5-8 in conference play and 10-16 overall with five games remaining, with the next one coming on Feb. 13 at UNC Asheville. Based on the records of every team between third and last place, only separated by three games, the conference is still wide open.
The effort shown in high-pressure moments against Campbell is the same effort needed to keep rising in the Big South. Over the last few games, Aldrich has noticed a rise in confidence and belief in themselves, feeling page turning in this chapter of the season.
“I told them before the game, the team that played the hardest tonight was going to be the team that won,” Aldrich said. “We played hard for enough of the game to win”