JPB era officially begins for Lancers
Published 11:00 am Thursday, November 16, 2023
It was a day years in the making, decades in the dreaming. The debut of a spectacular new on-campus arena — and for Longwood faithful, a top-tier, daylong Division I fan experience from morning till dark worthy of an ascendant program and a great university.
Students and fans came early for Homecoming tailgating, then packed the sold-old Joan Perry Brock Center for its first-ever basketball game Saturday. On the court, Longwood gave them plenty to cheer, dominating St. Mary’s of Maryland 95-43 to move to 1-1 on the young season.
“First, what an incredible atmosphere, unbelievable to open up the JPB,” head coach Griff Aldrich said afterward. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Just an unbelievable atmosphere, unbelievable building. Really a joy to play in this new arena.”
Lancer fans got their first in-person glimpse of a strong, physical team with a balanced offensive attack. Elijah Tucker had 13 points, Jon-Jon Massie had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Szymon Zapala added 10 points and eight rebounds – even though none of the three played more than 16 minutes.
Also encouraging for the Lancers: the return of veteran guard DA Houston to the lineup after missing Monday’s opener against St. Bonaventure with an injury; 12 points on four 3-pointers from sharpshooting freshman guard Jaylen Bernard; and a second straight dominant effort on the boards. Longwood outrebounded the Seahawks 52-17 overall, including a 24-4 edge in offensive rebounds.
Forward Jesper Granlund put his name in the history books with a free throw to record the first points in the new building, and the Lancers were off and running, building a 17-4 lead on a Tucker put-back less than five minutes into the game, then extending the lead to 34-11 on a 3-point play by Massie just past the halfway point before intermission.
A NEW ERA
With little drama on the court, Lancer fans will remember this one as their first game-day experience in the long awaited JPB, which was announced in 2019 in conjunction with a $15 million dollar gift from philanthropist Joan Perry Brock, Class of ‘64.
The opening game coincided with Longwood’s first Homecoming weekend, and hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered at the south end of campus starting at 10:30 a.m. for festive tailgating. Then, they marched past a revamped Stampede band down to the JPB for the game. Longwood’s women open their JPB era Sunday at noon.
“Practice in there is nice, but when you saw how the fans came in, it was a new experience,” said senior captain Walyn Napper. “I mean, Willett used to get packed, but when you see that right there, the lights, the new Jumbotron, it was good. It’s a blessing to be able to play in something like this.”
Aldrich said the team was still building toward better offensive flow, but there were plenty of bright spots on an afternoon when there was ample opportunity to limit minutes for starters and give plenty of guys time on the floor.
He singled out Houston, even though he was the only Lancer player not to score, whose return will help take some of the burden off Napper at guard.
“DA’s such a critical piece to what we’re doing her and such a critical piece for this team,” Aldrich said. “Good to see him out there. He allows Walyn to get off the court, and DA really leads the team out there, in his third year, and we really missed that against St. Bonaventure.”
He also praised Tucker, a transfer from Xavier, who shot 6-for-7 from the field, including a number of thunderous dunks, giving Lancer fans a glimpse of a powerful inside combo with Zapala that could prove hard to stop even by bigger competition as the season progresses.
“Elijah had a great game,” Aldrich said. “He played with great energy and effort, and that was fun to see. Elijah when he plays with that level of energy and intensity, it just elevates his whole play.”
NEXT GAME FOR LONGWOOD
The JPB era now officially underway with an emphatic win, the Lancers travel to Maryland-Eastern shore for their next game Wednesday, before returning home for their second home game next Saturday against North Carolina Central.