Sports Journalism Blog

By Derek Harper | @RealDerekHarper

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — The 15th seeded Longwood Lancers will make their first appearance in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament when they take on the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers Thursday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse Thursday at 2:45 p.m.

The Lancers finished the regular season with a 26-6 overall record and 15-1 in the Big South Conference. They won the Big South Conference Tournament championship for the first time this season defeating Winthrop 79-58 on March 6.

Longwood’s 26-6 regular season record is its best finish since the 1979-80 season when they reached the Division III Final Four in a 28-3 season. The Lancers set multiple records this year with 26 regular season victories, a 16-1 home record and an 11-game winning streak.

Senior guard DeShaun Wade touched on the team’s mindset going into its first appearance.

“Just to be ourselves, do the things that have gotten us here,” Wade said. “…It’s the first time we got here, so we don’t want to do too much or too less. Nobody is trying to be a hero. We are going to do the same thing that got us here and focus on being ourselves and getting better every single day while we still can.”

Longwood coach Griff Aldrich described his team’s approach. “Our program is really focused on trying to control what we can control, and we talk a lot about pouring into the root,” Aldrich said. “What that means is you can control your effort, your focus, your attitude, your mindset, and for us that’s what we have to — we have to treat this game no differently than any other game. Our guys have been working really hard since the summer. So, things can’t change now just that we are in the NCAA Tournament. This is going to be, obviously, on a much bigger stage, but we’ve got to focus on what’s gotten us here.”

Aldrich was named Big South Coach of the Year in his fourth season with the school and holds a record of 68-59. Sophomore guard Justin Hill and senior guard Isaiah Wilkins garnered All-Big South First Team honors while Wade collected an honorable mention. Hill averaged 14.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. Wilkins, who has played at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, averaged 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals this season. He made 41% of his 3-point shots.

Aldrich hasn’t always been a coach. He has a law degree, was a partner in a law firm and worked a few other jobs. In 2016 he joined good friend Ryan Odom at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County as Director of Recruiting. He signed as head coach at Longwood in 2018.

While he’s never coached an NCAA Tournament game, Aldrich is not entirely unfamiliar with postseason competition as he has a 1-2 record in the College Basketball Invitational.

Tennessee is making its 24th NCAA appearance, the fourth under coach Rick Barnes. Barnes has previously coached Providence, Clemson and Texas during March Madness. This year is the second time Tennessee in the tournament ranked as a three seed. The 2018 tournament was Tennessee’s first time as a three seed, defeating Wright State before falling to Loyola Chicago.

Freshman guard Kennedy Chandler averaged 13.8 points and 4.6 assists for the Volunteers. Junior guard Santiago Vescovi averaged 13.4 points and 4.5 assists. Vescovi spoke about Thursday’s matchup with Longwood. “At this point I don’t think it matters who we are playing, even if you have heard of them before or not,” Vescovi said. “I think the NCAA Tournament, that’s the fun part about it, and any team can beat any team at any point. Everybody is a champion in their own way. I don’t think you can take any team for granted. We are focused on them right now, and I think they have a great team. That’s why they’re here, too. So pretty much focus on them and take one step at a time.”