Longwood takes down Presbyterian, advances to Big South Quarterfinal

longwood logoOne year ago, Jayson Gee sat center stage at a postgame press conference after suffering an opening-round loss in his first Big South Tournament. His inaugural season as head coach at Longwood had just ended with a double-digit defeat at the hands of Gardner-Webb.

“We will be back, make no mistake about it,” he said just minutes after the 81-65 drubbing from Gardner-Webb in 2014. “What you saw this year, you will never see again, and we’re excited about that.”

Consider that promise fulfilled.

Gee’s new-look Lancers (10-22) rode 25 points from junior Shaquille Johnson to a first-round upset of eighth-seeded Presbyterian, 65-61, Wednesday afternoon at The HTC Center in the first game of the 2015 VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Championship. The victory propels Longwood into a quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Charleston Southern Friday at noon on ESPN3.

“I’m just really proud of our team,” said Gee, who led the ninth-seeded Lancers to the opening win nearly a year to the day since last year’s first-round exit. “I really believe they just weren’t going to be denied. They made up their minds they weren’t going to lose today.”

Playing with a group that includes eight players new to the program from last season, Longwood overcame a 13-point first-half deficit and then outscored Presbyterian 23-14 over the final 11 minutes of regulation to advance to the league quarterfinal for the second time in three years.

Johnson led the comeback charge with his first career double-double, adding a career-high 11 rebounds while hitting 11-of-14 free throws. He scored eight of those points off offensive rebounds and was the catalyst to that late run in the first half, scoring 10 points during a 15-6 run that trimmed 29-16 deficit to 35-31 heading into the break. He came back out and scored 10 more points in the second half, including five inside the final four minutes.

“When you have Quincy Taylor, Shaq Johnson, Ryan Badowski, Kanayo [Obi-Rapu] … it makes a big difference,” Gee said. “I guess what I wanted everybody to understand [last year] is there’s a new Longwood in town. We have a vision to do some special things. I’m not afraid to say so. It’s created some expectations that were maybe unrealistic, but at the same time, I believe if you plan on doing something you have to put it out there. I just said very boldly, ‘We’ll be back.’ This basketball team came back. I’m very proud of it.”

Longwood’s point guard tandem of Taylor and Leron Fisher combined for 29 points, eight assists and three steals and teamed with Johnson to outpace a 21-point effort from Presbyterian guard Markus Terry, who knocked down 5-of-6 three-pointers. Big South Freshman of the Year DeSean Murray recorded a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds, but Longwood held him scoreless and to just two rebounds over the final 11:58 of the game.

Murray’s final bucket preceded the turning point for Longwood, an 11-0 run that started immediately following the under-12-minute media timeout. Just before the break, Presbyterian had taken a 47-42 lead on Murray’s layup, but Fisher came out of the timeout by hitting the first of three straight Longwood three-pointers to cut the deficit back to two. Taylor followed with another trey 40 seconds later to give Longwood a 48-47 lead, and Fisher came back with another three-pointer at 9:53 to push the lead to 51-47. A Damarion Geter steal led to a Darrion Allen layup that capped the 11-point onslaught and gave Longwood a six-point lead with nine minutes to play.

“We knew they were going to make a run in the second half,” said the all-conference second team pick Taylor when asked about what transpired during the timeout. “It was just to get us together and get our minds right and ready for our run. It was our turn to make a run. It was just to get our focus back on track.”

That run included four straight defensive stops and four straight scores for the Lancers, who maintained a lead of at least three points the rest of the way.

Longwood’s first-round victory comes on the heels of a 70-65 win over Campbell in the regular season finale that earned the Lancers the No. 9 seed in the tournament and their highest conference finish in their three seasons in the Big South. The Cinderella run will encounter a much strong obstacle Friday, however, as top-seeded Charleston Southern is coming off a first-round bye and the regular season title.

“It’s a monumental opportunity, and I have to get my guys to understand what they’re up against,” Gee said. “[Charleston Southern] brought in a group of players four years ago who are now seniors. In their minds, they should have four straight regular season championships and now at least two conference tournament championships. So we’re facing a hunger that’s just as much a part of the scouting report as Will Saunders or Saah Nimley. We have to understand that. We have to match that.”