New-look Lancers take Wake Forest to the wire

Published 1:27 pm Friday, December 4, 2020

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The Longwood University men’s basketball team entered the 2020-21 season with a host of new faces.

Even after dropping a hard-fought contest at Wake Forest University in the season opener Friday, Nov. 27, some of those new faces have already become much more familiar.

Taking on a Longwood lineup with more than half of its players making their debuts in a Lancer uniform, the Demon Deacons needed four double-digit scorers and 14 points from graduate transfer Ian DuBose to overcome several standout premieres and pull away late from upset-minded Longwood 71-60 Friday at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“The reality for me was I was looking at this in large part like a scrimmage,” Lancers Head Coach Griff Aldrich said, who last season led the Lancers to a program-record fourth-place finish in the Big South Conference standings. “We didn’t get to scrimmage at all, this was our first game, and this was the first time we faced a different team with officials. To be honest I didn’t know what I was going to watch.”

What Aldrich watched was a tight battle between the youthful Lancers and first-year Head Coach Steve Forbes’ Demon Deacons that was deadlocked 34-34 at halftime and saw Longwood lead as late as eight minutes into the second half.

Without key contributors Heru Bligen and DeShaun Wade, both of whom missed the game with injuries, Longwood inserted true freshmen Jesper Granlund and Justin Hill into the starting lineup and deployed four other newcomers throughout the game to match up against an outside Deacs roster anchored by three graduate students, including DuBose.

“The big thing we said to our guys before they took the floor was we want to compete,” Aldrich said. “We want to be, at the end of the game, the team that people say, ‘Hey, those guys competed.’ One of the trademarks we want for Longwood basketball is that win or lose, at the end of the day for the other team to go, ‘Oof, those dudes battled.’ My guess is Wake Forest is saying that now.”

That battle came from both sides and went the full 40 minutes in the finale of the Mako Medical Wake Forest Classic, with DuBose putting Wake Forest over the top by scoring nine of his 14 points in the game’s final 13 minutes. His go-ahead layup with 11:57 to play erased Longwood’s 43-38 lead, sparked a 10-0 rally and gave the Deacs a lead they held the rest of the way.

The late-game performance from DuBose and double-digit efforts from Jonah Antonio, Jahcobi Neath and Ismael Massoud were enough to offset a pair of double-digit scoring nights from Longwood’s point guard tandem of redshirt junior Juan Munoz and Hill, who combined for 24 points.

Munoz, who led Longwood with 10.3 points per game during the 2019-20 season, scored a team-high 13 points over a team-high 34 minutes, while Hill broke out in his debut with 11 points, four assists and three steals.

Including Hill, six newcomers made their debut for Aldrich’s young Lancer team Friday, and five of those — Hill, Granlund, Jermaine Drewey, Bennett Mohn and Zac Watson — scored their first collegiate points in a Longwood uniform. Both Granlund and Hill started, while Drewey played 18 minutes and Zac Watson and Nate Lliteras both played double-digit minutes.

However, that lack of experience showed itself in the turnover column where Wake Forest’s pressure defense — a trademark of Forbes’ while leading East Tennessee State University to a pair of NCAA Tournaments from 2016-19 — forced Longwood into 24 giveaways, which the opportunistic Demon Deacons converted into 25 points.

Those turnovers inched Wake Forest to victory throughout the second half, particularly during a game-changing run that began when DuBose turned a Lancer giveaway into a go-ahead jumper with 13:11 to play.

Longwood sophomore forward Leslie Nkereuwem responded a minute later with a thunderous dunk on a pass from Hill, but DuBose came right back with a jumper that gave the lead back to the Deacons.

From there, Longwood turned the ball over three times in the next seven minutes, and Wake Forest turned every single giveaway into points, ultimately leading to a 19-9 run.

However, even with Wake Forest winning the game’s final 12 minutes, Aldrich expressed optimism with what he saw from his third Longwood team.

“I told the guys in the locker room after the game, ‘This is our first game,’” he said. “We’re going to fix a lot of the stuff, but the core and the DNA of this team — playing hard and competing — if they can do that, good things are in store.”