If anyone would have told Longwood women’s basketball head coach Rebecca Tillett that her team would be 2-2 after four games, it would definitely be something that would bring a smile to her face.
While one week of play doesn’t constitute how the whole length of a season will turn out, the Longwood women’s basketball program as a whole is beginning to turn some heads as a result of their last two games, which were both victories inside of Willett Hall. Attendance numbers have doubled for home women’s basketball games compared to this point in the season a year ago.
It all began last Wednesday night as the Lancers took to their home court for the first time this season, taking on the Seahawks from UNC Wilmington.
For Lancer fans, it was not a rare sight to see the team come out hot, as Longwood outscored the Gators of Florida in the first period of their previous game, but not many could have expected the 27 point outpouring from the offense which ended up taking place. Senior forward Dayna Rouse had 10 of her 16 points in the period, and helped set the tone right off the bat.
This number would be crucial moving throughout the rest of the game, as the team held an 11 point lead after the first intermission.
As both teams entered the contest at 0-2 after matching up against very tough competition to begin their respective campaigns, something had to give, and UNC Wilmington would not go down without a fight. After being down by as much as 13, the Seahawks responded and cut the lead down to 10 at the intermission.
They continued their run in the third, and also ramped up the pressure using the 2-3 zone defense on the Longwood offense, outscoring the Lancers 16-12 in the period. The stage was then set for an absolute slugfest coming down the stretch in the fourth.
While the Lancers offense was still majorly effected by the UNC Wilmington defense moving into the final stanza, only scoring five points in the fourth; the Longwood defense, in response, rose to the occasion.
Neither team scored a single point for the final 2:32 of the game, after Wilmington’s Lacey Suggs hit two free-throws, and the contest would come down to the final possession.
With mere seconds left on the clock, the Lancers, clinging to a 59-58 lead, would have to make a final stand to clinch their first signature win of the season, and they did just that as freshman Kyla McMakin, who ended the game with 14 points, rose up and rejected the Seahawks’ final attempt; sending the Willett Hall crowd into a frenzy.
Sealing their first win of the season was a huge relief for the team, and it proved exactly what Tillett was looking for in scheduling two tough games out of the gate; this team can fight to the end.
However, the Lancers didn’t have much time to rest on their joy of victory as the team took back to the Willett Hall floor this past Saturday to take on the Bears from Brown University.
In a complete contrary from the contest previously in the week, it was the Bears who had the hot hand in the first quarter, as they outscored the Lancers 22-17. However, Longwood fired back in the second quarter and cut the deficit to two points going into the locker room.
Now with a great chance to seal two victories in a row, something that hadn’t been done since the 2016 season, Tillett challenged a numerous amount of players to rise to the occasion and flourish in the moment.
She challenged McMakin to continue to fire away after an 0-7 performance in the first half, while also challenging Rouse and sophomore forward Akila Smith to remain in the game after both found their way into foul trouble.
“Obviously I was off in the beginning, I couldn’t hit a shot, actually I don’t think I had any points in the first half. So she (Tillett) just came to me and said ‘I’m not worried, and neither should you’,” said McMakin
Much like years past, the Lancers fell behind to begin the second half, by as much as 15 in the third quarter and were down 55-40 with 6:01 to go. Instead of folding like before, the team responded mightily and never looked back as they outscored the Bears 46-21 in the final 16 minutes of the game en-route to a 86-76 victory.
Each of the players who were challenged responded in their own respective ways. Rouse led the team with 20 points, and Smith played stellar defense throughout, coupled with both not fouling out of the contest, while McMakin got hot in the second half and finished with 16 points.
Tillett, after the contest, said the program as a whole grew as a result of the week’s performances.
“These women, the ones we brought in, and then you add in our returners; they want to change things, they want to make a big statement this year that Longwood women’s basketball is here and we are growing, and so for them to do that back-to-back was really special,” she said.
A higher level of guard play has been introduced to the team this season in the form of two junior transfers Tra’dayja Smith and Allysah ‘Cookie’ Boothe, alongside freshmen Anne-Hamilton Leroy and the aforementioned McMakin.
All four combined for nearly 64 percent of the offensive output in last Saturday’s contest and helped seal-the-deal when the going got tough.
“Day-Day (Smith) plays the bulk of those minutes, but Anne and ‘Cookie’ also handle the ball quite a bit for us, and I think both of them are doing a good job as well just making the right decisions and getting us in our spots where we are going to make good decisions together,” Tillett said.
Not looking to get too far ahead mentally, Tillett said herself and the coaching staff will use these victories to help maintain a standard of expected performance.
“As players, they are looking for ‘is what we are doing going to lead us somewhere?’, and so when they get to taste that, then they get hungrier for more,” she said. “We challenged them. We have to keep our practices at a high level, and our shootarounds, when we are working on scout stuff; they have to keep that at a high level.”
“For all of us in this program, two consecutive wins is not enough; we want more than that,” Tillett added.
After a few days to review film from this past week, the Lancers will travel to Spartanburg, South Carolina to take on the Terriers from Wofford College on Wednesday evening with a 7 p.m. tip-off.