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Longwood paces a wide-open Big South

The Lancers have not lost a conference game this season, but there are several other teams that can compete for the Big South title.

Jerome Kersey Classic
Justin Hill leads Longwood with 12.9 points per game. The Lancers sit atop the Big South standings at 7-0.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

It wouldn’t be much of an overstatement to call Saturday’s clash with Winthrop one of the most important games in the history of Longwood basketball. Knowing the winner would establish control atop the Big South table, the Lancers won a thrilling 92-88 affair over the Eagles.

After the momentous win over Winthrop, Longwood has taken a stranglehold atop the Big South with a flawless conference mark of 7-0. Longwood is among the Big South contenders who are looking to dethrone two-time defending champion Winthrop.

In just his third season as Longwood head coach, Griff Aldrich has the Lancers in a position to make a legitimate push for their first NCAA Tournament berth in program history. Aldrich has built a winning program in Farmville that is predicated on tenacious rebounding and efficient 3-point shooting. The Lancers are currently top-40 in Ken Pom in both offensive rebounding and 3-point percentage.

Sophomore guard Justin Hill spearheads the Longwood attack, leading the team with 12.9 points per game. Hill also leads the squad in assists and had a career outing against Winthrop finishing with 29 points.

Wake Forest transfer Isaiah Wilkins has also proven to be an astute addition for the Lancers, taking no time to emerge as Hill’s partner-in-crime. Wilkins is currently netting 12.3 points per contest, while also leading the Lancers in rebounding.

While Longwood is currently the story of the conference, there are several other teams that look capable of winning the conference tournament this March.

Despite Saturday’s tough loss on the road, it’s far too soon to count Winthrop out as legitimate Big South contenders. The Eagles are 6-2 in conference play in the first year of the Mark Prosser era, and it would be foolish to sleep on a roster that knows how to get it done in March.

Winthrop is led by big man D.J. Burns Jr., who is arguably the Big South’s best player when he’s on the floor. The hometown hero is averaging 16.2 points per game despite averaging just over 21 minutes per matchup. Burns got into early foul trouble and only saw 15 minutes of action at Longwood.

The Eagles also have one of the Big South’s most lethal shooting threats in Patrick Good, who is on his third team in four years. The East Tennessee State transfer is netting 11.9 points per contest while converting 45 percent of his looks from downtown.

Winthrop is tied for second in the Big South with South Carolina Upstate. The Spartans entered conference play with a dismal record of 3-9 and had only one wins over another Division I team. Coach Dave Dickerson used a five-game winning streak to catapult his squad to the upper echelon of the Big South standings.

Upstate’s winning streak was halted in an overtime loss against Winthrop last week, but the Spartans have still proven they can beat anyone in the conference. The Spartans are led by a guard tandem of Bryson Mozone and Jordan Gainey. Mozone is the senior leader and alpha of the group, scoring 14.2 points and collecting 5.1 rebounds per game.

Dickerson found quite the steal in Gainey. The freshman is averaging 13.1 points per game and is converting on an absurd 51.2 percent of his 3-point attempts. At this rate, Gainey should be a shoe-in for the conference’s Freshman of the Year award.

Campbell and Gardner-Webb also both have dangerous teams that can make a push for the conference crown in March. Both schools are still well within striking-distance at 5-3 in Big South play.

The Bulldogs are led by a pair of guards in D’Maurian Williams and Lance Terry, who are both scoring over 14 points per matchup. After finally breaking through and earning their first tournament berth in program history in 2019, coach Tim Craft remains eager to build off that momentum by getting his program back into the Big Dance.

The Camels, on the other hand, are in the midst of a tournament drought that is going on 30 years. Led by a pair of senior guards in Cedric Henderson Jr. and Jordan Whitfield, Kevin McGeehan’s squad has what it takes to secure that elusive trip to the Big Dance this year. Campbell got slaughtered by Winthrop in the Big South finals last year, so this is a veteran group that still has a bad taste.

UNC Asheville and North Carolina A&T are both sitting at 4-4 in the conference. The High Point Panthers are still hanging around at 3-4, while Hampton, Radford, Presbyterian and Charleston Southern are at the bottom of the table.