Game #9-532: Longwood Lancers vs. North Carolina-Asheville BulldogsMarch 5, 2013 2:00 pm
Myrtle Beach, SC
After years of being disrespected as an independent
and shunned even by the Big South, Longwood was now finally in a conference tournament. This game would mark the first time the Lancers were finally in a Division I postseason. The last time Longwood played in a conference tournament was ten years ago, when the Lancers lost to Belmont Abbey in the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference (renamed Conference Carolinas when Longwood left) Tournament. For Longwood fans like Parks Smith
, this was a long time coming. The Lancers would get two-time defending champion UNC Asheville in prime time, most likely somewhere between 8 and 8:30. This would be the game to watch for in the first round.
But hold on here! Longwood and UNC Asheville are not the big ticket sellers here. In this supposedly "neutral" site venue, only one school could really fill the HTC Center. And that school of course would be Coastal Carolina, the school whose campus this is. I have seen some conference tournament schedules (like the Big South women's tournament at High Point the last four years) note that the host will play last regardless of listed times. But that was not listed on here, so fans made plans based on seeing their teams at a particular time. One High Point fan complained that he had booked a dinner show via the tournament's sponsoring website VisitMyrtleBeach.com based on anticipating that HPU's quarterfinal game would be at Noon rather than around 8 PM on Thursday. Parks had made plans to get off work a little bit early, then make his way down from Richmond to see his alma mater's first ever Division I postseason game. But with this time change, Parks would not be able to make it. And he was not too happy about it, voicing his displeasure on his Lancers Blog site
. Parks also writes for Mid-Major Madness, and vented about his displeasure over there
. One fan on the Big South Tournament Facebook page referred to Parks' Mid-Majorness post, calling it "an unbiased source". That is not really true of course, but the problems were evident here. Having the host play last is standard practice. But part of what the Big South was going for was for fans to make a vacation out of this weekend. And when you change game times with less than a week's notice, there are going to be problems.
I can easily see where the Big South is coming from. If Coastal had played the Noon game as scheduled, that game likely would have been sparsely attended. And with a sparsely attended Coastal game, we would be looking at potentially 21 sparsely attended Big South games. That would turn the conference tournament into a money loser. But so could be the case if Coastal lost that game in primetime this evening (which by the way they did). And this is a conference tournament as well, which ideally should be completely neutral if this is not being done based on higher seeds. Coastal Carolina had done nothing to secure its home court advantage, aside from being located near the powerful hotel industry that was effectively sponsoring the tournament. When I talked to Matt Cayuela at earlier CCU games, he felt that he could not see Coastal getting a homecourt advantage in part because of the Noon start times. Now Coastal would be getting a big crowd for its nightcap (while CCU did lose, it was close to a sellout for their game). And that was even with four schools in the conference having better records in the regular season (although the team CCU played and lost to this evening was not one of them). And as Parks pointed out on Twitter and other places, the CAA never altered their start times to favor VCU or Richmond when playing at the Richmond Coliseum. But unfortunately the Big South is not the CAA. The CAA (well, the old CAA anyway) was big-time mid-major basketball. Fans would always show up for that event. For the Big South Tournament, most schools besides Coastal only brought a few hundred fans for the weekend games and less than a hundred for the midweek games. Even though the HTC Center was not a big arena, it would not be getting filled most of the time. Unfortunately, fan interest is low enough to warrant Coastal playing the last primetime game. But that should have been explicitly stated before the tournament. The Big South was not getting itself good PR the way things went early on in organizing the tournament, and Parks was not the only fan angry. As I have said before with how Coastal handled the parking situation
, hopefully the conference will have learned something and correct their mistakes for next year.
But this was not how the disrespected Lancers wanted to start. And what's worse was that with a game against powerful UNC Asheville, this was likely all of the tournament experience Longwood would get this week in Conway. Parks could only watch on his computer through the subscription Big South Network. And Longwood, which finished in last place in the conference, would face two-time defending champion UNC Asheville. And Asheville certainly had the firepower to win it this year, having been just edged out by Gardner-Webb and Charleston Southern for the South Division. This seemed to be the most lopsided game of the day, even with the Lancers improving play recently. After all, Bulldog star Jeremy Atkinson after a close loss at North Carolina State
said, "We should kill in the Big South".
But the Bulldogs were not doing much killing this game. Longwood started out super hot on offense, as Tristan Carey led the Lancers to scoring 25 points on their first 16 possessions. And while UNCA would get some offense of their own through Atkinson and Keith Hornsby, Longwood would come back and answer with a nice finish to the first half. Longwood would get some good shots late in the half by David Robinson (much different from the more famous basketball player with the same name), and Longwood would finish the first half with an incredible 47 points on 33 possessions (over 1.4 points per possession)! Longwood had a 12 point lead at halftime as the heavy favorites. But quite often big underdogs in the postseason fade after a big start. Last time I saw Longwood play, they cooled off considerably after a good start at Gardner-Webb
. Would this game be the same?
But I hoped it would not. Parks mentioned to me on Twitter that he had left his ticket package with somebody else since he would not be able to make it here until Thursday. And if he made it early enough, maybe he could see Longwood play then! But first things first, and Longwood still had to take care of UNC Asheville. But first things first, as LU had some business to take care of. And it did not start well in the second half for the Lancers. UNC Asheville scored the first eight points to cut the Longwood lead to four at the under 16 media timeout and both Carey and freshman big man Michael Kessens were close to fouling out. It did not look like the kind of game an underdog could hold on in. But Longwood did not appear to be a typical underdog. Even with Carey and Kessens on the bench, Longwood's role players like Robinson and Lucas Woodhouse were coming through when they had not before this season. And Kessens and Carey both returned midway through the second half only a foul away from fouling out. But they were able to play both cautiously and well. After holding steady on a slight lead most of the second half, it was UNC Asheville that gave out down the stretch. Robinson made a big superhoop with three minutes left to give the Lancers a double digit lead, and the frustrated Bulldogs would suffer a meltdown. As the final seconds ticked down, the Lancers' bench erupted as joyous as I have ever seen a team early in the conference tournament. After being disrespected for so long and sharing their abbreviation of LU with a much bigger neighbor in the conference, Longwood had the big upset win a final score of 87-72. This was perhaps the biggest of the first round upsets in conference tournaments this Championship Fortnight.
As it turns out, Parks meant that he would not get to Horry County until Thursday night, by which point Longwood had been eliminated. Parks still arrived in time to watch the Lancer women reach the Big South final. But nevertheless, this was still a great moment in the tournament. It had been a long time coming for the Lancers, and their fans were inconvenienced at the priority of Coastal fans. It was also an inconvenience towards UNC Asheville as well, which would make a quick and unexpected exit. But UNCA has done very well in the recent past with their coach Eddie Biedenbach. This was Longwood's time to shine. This was definitely my favorite game of the tournament, as Longwood reacted at the end of the game like you see when a mid-major pulls off a Red Line Upset this time of year. The cheerleaders were extremely excited with everybody jumping up and down as they formed a tunnel as the Lancers bounded towards the locker room. It's too bad that we don't see more games like this one more often in March.
LONGWOOD 87, NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 72
LONGWOOD 8-24 (4-12) -- L. Woodhouse 5-11 6-6 17; D. Robinson 4-9 3-4 15; T. Carey 9-20 0-0 21; M. Kessens 3-6 3-3 9; K. Ziegler 4-8 9-9 17; J. Dublin 2-3 4-4 8; J. Havenstein 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-57 25-26 87.
NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 16-16 (10-6) -- J. Atkinson 9-21 0-2 19; K. Hornsby 4-15 6-7 14; W. Weeks 4-10 3-5 11; J. Nwannunu 3-6 5-5 11; T. Meyer 2-6 0-0 4; C. Littlejohn 1-5 2-2 5; S. Hughes 2-6 1-2 5; D. Cunningham 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 26-72 18-25 72.
Three-point goals: LONG 8-19 (T. Carey 3-9; D. Robinson 4-8; L. Woodhouse 1-2), UNCA 2-17 (T. Meyer 0-2; J. Atkinson 1-4; C. Littlejohn 1-2; K. Hornsby 0-6; S. Hughes 0-3); Rebounds: LONG 34 (M. Kessens 10), UNCA 40 (J. Atkinson 11); Assists: LONG 13 (L. Woodhouse 7), UNCA 8 (K. Hornsby 5); Total Fouls -- LONG 16, UNCA 22; Fouled Out: LONG-None; UNCA-None.
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