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Abilene Christian pulls away late to topple Longwood, 74-58

longwood athleticsAbilene Christian leaned on matching 17-point efforts from Damien Daniels and Mahki Morris to pull away from Longwood late en route to a 74-58 win Wednesday evening at the Teague Center.

The win kept the Wildcats (9-2) a perfect 8-0 on their temporary home court in Teague this season and extended their winning streak to nine straight games overall, dating back to the second week of the season.

Entering the game as the nation’s leader in turnover margin and among the top 10 nationally in steals, scoring margin and scoring defense, Abilene Christian finally broke through against the Lancers (7-5) midway through the second half with a game-changing 13-2 run. That rally spanned 5:07 and featured 10 consecutive points that turned a four-point lead to double digits, which the Wildcats maintained the rest of the way.

“It was a tight game, then they went on that little run and created some separation. I don’t think we really responded the way we needed to mentally and with our effort,” said Longwood head coach Griff Aldrich.

“But as disappointing and frustrating as tonight was, and it was for a number of a reasons, that in no way diminishes how proud I am of their fight. I don’t think our guys quit at all. I thought they competed in very trying circumstances and under very challenging circumstances, and they continued to battle throughout.”

In a Lone Star State homecoming for four Lancers, as well as Aldrich who was an attorney in the private sector and an AAU basketball coach in Houston for more than a decade before taking over the Longwood program in 2018, Longwood was within one possession as late as the 12:22 mark in the second half.

The Lancers became only the fourth team this season to hold Abilene Christian under 80 points, but the double-digit efforts from Daniels and Morris and a combined 34 points from the Wildcat bench were enough to give them the edge in a showdown of the top offenses from the Big South and the WAC. Longwood came into the game averaging a Big South-best 77.9 points per game but scored less than that for only the third time this season.

Contributing to that effort was the prolonged absence of leading scorer Isaiah Wilkins, whom the officials issued a third foul with more than eight minutes remaining in the first half. Wilkins went on to play just 16 minutes and scored a season-low two points, snapping a streak of four consecutive double-digit scoring games.

With Wilkins on the bench and multiple Lancers facing foul trouble throughout, Abilene Christian stayed aggressive defensively and forced Longwood into a season-high 22 turnovers. The Wildcats converted those takeaways into 24 points and made Longwood the ninth team to commit at least 20 giveaways against them this season.

Redshirt sophomore guard Nate Lliteras picked up the scoring load for Longwood with 10 points and a pair of three-pointers, while native Texan DA Houston and junior forward Leslie Nkereuwem both scored 10.

The loss snapped a three-game win streak for the Lancers, who remain just one win away from securing the program’s best-ever non-conference winning percentage of the Division I era.

“This is an opportunity for us to continue to grow and learn the lesson,” Aldrich said. “We’re going to have conference games like this where it’s really tight, and if somebody goes on a run, we have to be aware they’re on a run and be able to respond.

“I’m extremely excited for this group. You step back and look at this non-conference, and this team has really grown significantly since the start preseason workouts in September. I’m just super excited about where this group can continue to develop and grow.”

Longwood’s final non-conference game of the season will be against Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 30 in Princess Anne, Md. Longwood will then turn its sights toward a 16-game Big South gauntlet, which will begin at Commonwealth rival Hampton on Jan. 5 in Hampton, Va.

augusta free press
augusta free press