CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – No more underdogs hoping to pull off a surprise or two in the Big South Tournament. This year, Longwood Women’s Basketball is the co-regular season champion, seeded No. 2 – and is hungry to keep playing until March.
One win, two to go as the Lancers chase a first-ever Big South Tournament title and NCAA Tournament bid.
Great Southern Player of the Year Akila Smith dominated with a career-high 28 points and 19 rebounds, Tra’Dayja Smith added 13 points, and Longwood held on after taking a big first-half lead to beat Hampton 70-61 in the Big South Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday at Bojangles Coliseum.
The Lancers (19-11, 15-3 Big South) advance to the semifinals Saturday at 8 p.m. against the winner of the USC-Upstate-UNC-Asheville game later Thursday.
“Attacking and moving forward. Really happy with the result. Hampton obviously gave us their best,” the head coach said. Rebecca Tillett. “Overall, I’m really happy with the intensity of our women, our response and certainly our rebounding effort tonight.”
The best news for Lancer fans is that this team — now 12-1 in their last 13 games — is playing its winningest basketball when it matters most.
Neither did Smith, who followed up his 29-point effort in last weekend’s regular season finale against Hampton by anchoring a stifling defensive effort that kept the Pirates just one goal away for nearly 16 minutes to start. the match as Longwood. built a 38-18 halftime lead.
But basketball wisdom dictates that it’s never easy to beat the same team three times in a season – the Lancers were trying to beat the Pirates for the third time in 12 days – and Longwood ended up needing the cushion . Hampton warmed up in the second half — he shot 70% in the third quarter — and troubled the Lancers with an aggressive press, cutting the lead to 66-61 with just over a minute to go. Longwood fans couldn’t fully breathe out until two free throws from Tra’dayja Smith with 27 seconds remaining put the game out of reach.
The dominant first half in defense was the difference as Longwood forced the Pirates to a 1-on-17 shot to start the game.
Smith’s numbers in the first half alone – 15 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks – would have been great full-game work for most players. As Longwood tries to extend their historic run, Tillett knows they will ride on the back of their senior star at both ends of the court.
“With Akila, she’s always full of another surprise and another level,” Tillett said. “I think we’re just seeing that. I still don’t think we’ve gotten to how far Akila can go and what she can do for the program.”
“Just seeing his growth as a leader,” she added. “That calm she displayed when they ran. She’s special.”
Longwood built the lead that proved insurmountable in the second quarter. At Anne-Hamilton LeRoy’s 3 points and a free throw near the halfway point capped a 10-0 run in less than a minute, which put Longwood up 30-8 en route to their 38-18 halftime lead.
As Hampton rallied in the third quarter, Smith and Snowy Vennema each assisted the other on lay-ups at 32-second intervals just before the quarter break to steady the ship for Longwood. In the fourth quarter, the Pirates kept coming, but Kyla McMakinwho finished with 9 points, hit his only 3-pointer of the game at a key spot with 2:44 left.
A strong contingent of Longwood fans made the trip and – with the Longwood men’s team also cheering from the stands ahead of their quarter-final game tomorrow – provided a much-needed source of energy as the Lancers cruised to victory .
Smith, third in the nation in blocked shots and only player in the top 50 under six feet, said the team had shown what they could do when all the engines were running in the first half – and also be cool under fire when needed. withstand a run in the second.
“For us, going into the game, we had the right mindset,” Smith said. “We wanted to go out and attack and we did that. But we also knew it wouldn’t be easy, there would be challenges, a bump in the road, and I think we overcame that.”
“Being in this place is different for us, different in a good way,” said Tillett, the Lancers’ new role entering the Big South Tournament considered a contender. “This tough season we’ve had and the different places we’ve had to come out of a valley has prepared us well.”