Michael Christmas shines as the Lancers shut down the Eagles

Published 12:37 pm Friday, November 24, 2023

On a day when nothing came easy, Michael Christmas found a way for Longwood men’s basketball.

On Saturday afternoon at the Joan Perry Brock Center, the graduate student muscled home a career best 22 points to go with 12 rebounds, and the Lancers (3-1) needed every big of it in a 73-66 win over a feisty North Carolina Central University team that refused to go away.

“I’m proud of the guys for coming out and finding a way to win,” said Longwood Head Coach Griff Aldrich. “I thought that was really good. They showed some resilience to get a win. That’s on the positive side. I thought we had some great contributions from guys off the bench. I thought Johan Nziemi was really good when we needed him. Saxby Sunderland gave us some great minutes in the first half. Michael Christmas, obviously, had a great game. Walyn Napper shot the ball extremely well from the free throw line, which was good to see.”

Christmas’s fourth straight game in double figures was his finest as a Lancer, and he constantly made big shots when the Lancers needed them most. His efforts — and his second double-double of the season–coupled with 19 points by Napper to push Longwood to a third straight win. It kept them undefeated at the Joan Perry Brock Center as well.

‘MICHAEL IS REALLY COMMITTED’ 

“Honestly, Michael is playing very free right now,” Aldrich said. “I think Michael is really committed himself to letting the results be what they will be, and I think there’s a lightness about how he’s playing, which is really fun to see. Michael is such a wonderful kid and works so hard. He really, really wants to be good and works so hard at being the best basketball player he can be and the best Longwood Lancer he can be. We really can’t ask much more from his effort and focus.”

In a choppy first half that saw the two teams struggle on the perimeter, Christmas’s consisted forays to the rim provided some stability for the Lancers.

The Lancers never trailed, but North Carolina Central (2-3) hung around and trimmed the Longwood lead to 15-14 with a tick more than eight minutes to go in the half.

However, Christmas and Saxby Sunderland, along with a healthy dose of team defense, owned the final six minutes and change of the half. Christmas poured in five points, and Sunderland added all five of his points during a 15-4 run that gave Longwood a 30-18 lead at the break.

After halftime, North Carolina Central’s Po’Boigh King and Fred Cleveland Jr. took over as the Eagles roared back. The duo combined for 30 points, all in the final 20 minutes, to repeatedly knife the Longwood lead to one possession on multiple occasions.

Christmas and Napper provided answers each time to fend off North Carolina Central. 

The duo repeatedly stormed into the paint and, as a result, to the foul line. Christmas finished the game 9-10 at the stripe, and Napper ended it 9-12. Napper also scored 17 of his 19 points after halftime, and the two combined to score 21 of Longwood’s final 22 points.

“I think Walyn started driving the ball more,” Aldrich said about Napper’s second half eruption. “That’s what his best gifts are, is driving the ball and getting into the paint. He’s very hard to deal with when he drives. That’s where his focus needs to be.”

When North Carolina Central cut the Longwood lead to five, 51-46, halfway through the half on a King pull up, Napper took over for the next five minutes. He powered home 11 straight Longwood points to help keep an Eagle side that seemingly couldn’t miss at bay. 

After North Carolina Central cut it to 60-58, Napper hit two free throws for a four-point lead. That started a 7-0 mini-run that Christmas capped with five points for a 67-58 lead with 2:25 to play. The Lancers maintained a two-possession lead for the final two minutes to preserve the win.

COMING NEXT FOR LONGWOOD

Longwood hosts the Brock Challenge on Thanksgiving Weekend as the Lancers welcome Delaware State, Lamar and Bethune-Cookman to Farmville. The four teams play each other in a round-robin style for six games over three days. Longwood hosts Delaware State on Friday, Nov. 24 at 3 p.m., Lamar on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 3 p.m., and Bethune-Cookman on Sunday, November 26 at 3:30 p.m. All six games will air on ESPN+, with all Longwood games also on the radio on WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.