Tomorrow night, Maryland will take a brief hiatus from its conference slate to host Longwood at Comcast Center. The Lancers are 4-14 as they continue to play as one of a select few teams in the country without a conference affiliation.
Seventh-year coach Mike Gillian understands the challenge his team will face when it takes on the Terrapins on Tuesday, but that doesn't mean the Lancers will be ammending their style of play in an attempt to annoy the favored, home squad.
"We're at a stage now where we're not trying to do anything that I think we're not capable of doing," Gillian said Sunday in a phone interview. "We're not saying, 'Hey, because we're going to go play at Maryland, let's play zone and try to hold the ball for 30 seconds.' That's not what we do, and I think we're good enough to go into places and say, 'Hey, we should be good enough at what we're doing.'"
What Longwood does is compensate for its lack of size by executing an up-tempo offense and applying as much pressure as possible on defense. No player in Longwood's eight-man rotation stands taller than 6-foot-7, which makes creating turnovers and, thus, transition scoring opportunities a high priority.
However, due to an injury to Longwood's returning starting point guard before the start of the season, the Lancers have not been as effecive on defense as they were a year ago. Junior guard Durann Neil (6-foot-1, 185 lbs.) underwent sports hernia surgery Oct. 17, and although he has returned to practice, the team decided to sit him the entire season. Neil averaged 7.1 points and 3.9 assists per game and owned a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. He had been named to the preseason all-Independent team by Sporting News before suffering the sports hernia, which is a tear to the oblique abdominal muscles.
With Neil out, senior guard E.J. Dawson (6-foot-2, 185 lbs.) has been forced into a larger role this season. Dawson, who had been the back-up point guard, now facilitates the Lancers' offense. He is averaging 3.5 points and 3.2 assists per game. He possesses a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"He's not explosive or flashy by any means, but he takes pretty good care of the ball," Gillian said of Dawson. "He throws it where it's supposed to go and understands where he needs to be defensively."
The primary trickle-down effect of Neil's injury, Gillian said, was that it limited how long Longwood can press before fatigue. With a shorter bench, the Lancers have fewer fresh legs to insert into the game and keep the pressure going.
Longwood essentially plays a four-guard offense that flows mainly through senior Dana Smith (6-foot-5, 230 lbs.). Although Smith gives up considerable size on defense -- he often is asked to guard the opposing team's power forward -- Gillian said he can create match-up problems on the offensive end. Smith is averaging a team-leading 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He is shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from three-point range.
"Dana's a guy who when he first came here we played him on the perimeter," Gillian said. "He could make some jump shots, but he wasn't really a strong ball-handler or a passer, but he could rebound out of the guard position. As we went through time and just had a few better perimeter players, we moved him (into the post). He's an undersized four-man, but we play four guys on the outside, so he's a perimeter player, but he does need to defend the post and rebound."
Longwood's other two starting guards are senior Kevin Swecker (6-foot-1, 180 lbs.) and junior Aaron Mitchell (6-foot-2, 188 lbs.). Swecker is averaging 7.5 points per game and leads the team with 20 steals. Gillian said, though, that sometimes Swecker can become a little too focussed on cheating the passing lanes.
"He's going to be rotating and in position to get steals, and other times he's got to guard his own man and not cheat towards that," Gillian said of Swecker. "And there's a fine line there because if you don't do it well both way you get compromised and you get beat for baskets. There's a lot of understanding that has to go on, and his understanding and knowledge of the game allows him to be a good defender. You put him on a guy one-on-one and say guard this guy,he understands where that guy might go or what's going to happen so he can defend him, but if it was a one-on-one and you guys are the only two guys out there, that's a little more difficult."
As for Mitchell, he is averaging 8.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. More of an off-the-ball guard, Mitchell still racks up assists because he often draws the attention of opposing defenses while making his cuts and running through the Lancers' plays.
"He's not as much as facilitator as he is a guy who's got to do a good job readying the defense and if they come to you, you need to throw it to the next guy who needs to be ready to shoot it and put it in," Gillian said of Mitchell.
Longwood's lone starting post player is senior forward Billy Robinson Jr. (6-foot-7, 200 lbs.). Robinson is averaging 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 50.4 percent from the field.
Spelling Robinson off the bench is sophomore forward Antwan Carter (6-foot-6, 225 lbs.). Carter is expected one day to emerge as Longwood's go-to performer, but for now he remains a very capable and effective sixth man. He is averaging 14.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He also has tallied a team-leading 10 blocks and is shooting 49.8 percent from the field. Gillian said Carter and Robinson rarely are on the court at the same time.
"The big challenge is when we play guys who are bigger or other teams that have guys that can score in and around the post, they can't really defend those guys one-on-one down there, so that puts us in a compromising position," Gillian said. "As he (Carter) progresses, he's going to be in a spot where he's got to realize, 'Hey, in order for this team to get better, I can score, I can rebound, I can put the ball in the basket, I can help my team on that end, but I need to be much better, much stronger, much more active defensively in keeping my own guy from scoring so we don't maybe have to double-team and in keeping my guy off the glass so we're a better defensive rebounding team as well.' What trickles down to them is the fact that they can't get much help because the four-man on the other team is bigger."
In terms of backcourt depth, Longwood offers sophomore guard Martiz Washington (6-foot-0, 170 lbs.) and junior guard Earl Gee II (5-foot-10, 155 lbs.) off the bench. Washington is averaging 7.2 points per game, while shooting 31.1 percent from the field and 28.4 percent from three-point range. Washington, Swecker and Smith are Longwood's most prolific three-point shooters, though none of them shoots better than 35 percent from beyond the arc.
As for Gee, he is averaging 2.9 points and 1.0 rebound per game, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field.
Overall, Longwood shoots 41.2 percent from the field, 31.4 percent from three-point range and 66.4 percent from the free throw line. Due to their extreme lack of height, the Lancers are not a quality rebounding unit (-5.8 rebounding margin). They also are averaging 14.6 turnovers per game.
But they do force a fair share of turnovers (+1.2 turnover margin), and that's exactly what Gillian will lean on Tuesday night at Comcast Center.
"We're going to go in there and do what we do," Gillian said. "It's not like we're going to hold the ball or play zone or do any of that stuff. To me, that doesn't challenge us to see how much progress we've made. No sense in going in there and holding back and changing something just because it's Maryland."
January 18, 2010; 10:25 AM ET
Categories: Men's basketball
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