Longwood Lancers Preview and Q&A

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Friday, December 18th, 2015 With 0 Comments

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Tomorrow evening at 8pm, EagleBank Arena will host the first edition of a new intra-state series, as the Longwood Lancers (3-8) take on George Mason (4-7) for the first time. Longwood made the leap to Division 1 in 2004-05, and joined the Big South Conference for the 2012-13 season. Located in Farmville, Va., Longwood University is approximately 160 miles from Fairfax.

Longwood has four players scoring in double figures, led by Kanayo Obi-Rapu’s 14.2 points. Duquesne transfer Tra’Vaughn White was contributing an additional 9.2 points before he sustained a wrist injury in late November. Khris Lane leads the way with 8.4 boards, while Leron Fisher tops the statsheet by averaging 4.4 assists.

George Mason’s short bench got even shorter this week, with the announcement Wednesday that senior guard Patrick Holloway has voluntarily departed the program. With Marko Gujanicic’s indefinite academic suspension still pending, and no public word on Julian Royal’s return from his preseason concussion, the Patriots may well only have eight scholarships players available Saturday and for the near future. The lack of experienced depth will be an important opportunity and learning experience for Dave Paulsen’s five healthy freshmen.

The Lancers and the Patriots have two shared opponents this season: Oklahoma State and Richmond. The Lancers lost at Richmond 77-59 on December 12, and at Oklahoma State 73-55 on December 15. They come to Fairfax looking to break a four game losing streak that also includes High Point and UMBC.

Mike Gillian, a longtime Jim Larrañaga assistant at Bowling Green (1996-97) and George Mason (1997-2003), led the Lancers through their Division 1 transition from 2003 to 2013, beginning with a 1-31 record in 2004-05 to a 17-14 record in 2008-09, their first winning record in D1, and after many years in the dark, cold world of D1 Independent status, an invitation to join the Big South in 2012.

Earlier this week, I asked the fine folks at LancersBlog to answer some questions about their team.

masonhoops: With this being the first meeting between the two schools, Mason fans don’t know much about Longwood. What should they know about the starting lineup?

LancersBlog: We’ve had seven players this year miss a game one way or another and we’re finally seeing our core rotation playing together. The team looked good against Oklahoma State until there was a 45 minute power outage in the second half and things really started to come together during the Richmond game. Our starting point guard Tra’Vaughn White is still nursing a wrist injury, so we won’t see our starting five complete until he returns.

In terms of the starting five we have on the court now it’s a pretty balanced group. Our frontcourt is our strength with Lotanna Nwogbo, Shaq Johnson, and Khris Lane. Nwogbo is arguably the conference’s best big man and is a double-double threat every night. Lane is a Drexel transfer who just joined the squad this year and his rebounding and ability to stretch the floor has been a great addition. He’s coming off a 13 point, 10 rebound performance against Oklahoma State on Tuesday. Saturday’s game will be just the third of the year for Shaq and he came out in his first game at Richmond and posted 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists. He is our best perimeter defender and by far the best athlete on the team.

I’m listing six players here because there is a slight chance Shaq slips into the starting lineup for the first time. If not you’ll see a three guard set with Leron Fisher, DJ Allen, and Kanayo Obi-Rapu. Fisher is a really scrappy point guard who lead the Big South in steals last year. Since taking over the reins for the injured White he’s shown what he can do offensively with over 11 points and 4 assists per game. Allen is also a defensive minded guard but has ameliorated his offensive abilities this season. Obi-Rapu is the teams leading scorer and has been among the best three point shooters in the nation this season.

masonhoops: Looking at the bench, it seems that head coach Jayson Gee only likes to go seven deep. Is that pattern likely to continue?

LancersBlog: You’ll likely only see seven guys Saturday unless there is a splash of Isaac Belton in the first half. The plan is to have a core eight man rotation when White gets healthy and we turn the page to conference play. Chris Shields has proven to be a very valuable freshman off the bench and he’s versatile and can get hot at any time.

masonhoops: According to KenPom, the Lancers are one of the worst defensive teams in the country. Is that by choice, or is it due to a lack of talent and execution?

LancersBlog: It’s certainly not by choice as coach Gee’s core philosophy is to dictate the game defensively. He just hasn’t had the horses to do so this year with all the injuries and a lot of games have just gotten us in trouble in transition. We’ve been very bad with perimeter defense this season, especially when we’ve had to play zone a few times. Shaq being back now changes the whole defensive dynamic. He adds size, athleticism, and rebounding ability at the three. We had a solid defensive outing once we buckled down at Oklahoma State.

masonhoops: The Lancers are currently 3-8 on the season, with their only Division 1 win coming at Columbia on November 28. Picked sixth in the eleven-team Big South, what are some realistic expectations for Longwood this season?

LancersBlog: I think the sixth selection still holds water in my mind, I think this is a .500 team in conference play. The record right now is deceiving because of the aforementioned injuries and lack of depth. Sure injuries happen, but absences have especially plagued this team. We have lost some games we had no business losing (UMBC, Maine) but I think this is a totally different team at this stage in the season.

masonhoops: Mike Gillian was an assistant coach at George Mason from 1997-2003, then became the head coach at Longwood from 2003-2013, leading the Lancers during their transition to Division 1. Do you have any interesting stories about Mike Gillian?

LancersBlog: Not really, taking a team to the Division I level is never easy but he was never really able to jump start the program the way you’ve seen guys like Jim Engles, Scott Nagy, or Andy Enfield. The results haven’t come yet in terms of wins and losses but the culture of the program has totally changed and the quality of players has skyrocketed. The 2016 class we have coming in is especially exciting.

masonhoops: After joining Division 1 in 2004, the Lancers were an independent until joining the Big South in 2012. How much of a relief was it for the Lancers to finally find a conference home at the D1 level?

LancersBlog: It was definitely a relief, we’re really grateful to the student-athletes that spent so many years here playing with the hopes of a championship. I think situations like ours have caused some NCAA reform where new Division I members need to come in with conference affiliation. We thought we were going to be in the Big South in 2004 but some squabbles high up the food chain nixed that. There were rumors ranging from the Atlantic Sun to the NEC and even the MEAC. The Big South is the perfect fit for us because it placed us with a lot of like peer institutions. Of course the conference continues to change with VMI leaving and now Coastal Carolina but that’s just the time we live in with college sports.

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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