One of Mike Gillian’s best players headed to the bench for good with nearly 10 minutes to play Monday, a technical foul bringing an end to Michael Kessens‘ night.
In truth, it was over for Longwood, an 89-53 loser at Georgetown, long before Kessens grumbled at length about getting tagged with his fourth foul. The Lancers drove up from Farmville, collected a check, collected a drubbing and headed home, all in the span of a day. The outcome, if not entirely preordained, came as no surprise.
It was nonetheless an important moment for the Lancers (2-7), whose success will hardly be defined by a turnover-filled loss to a superior foe. It was an experience to grow from for Kessens and the rest of a green team to learn from in the meaningful months to come.
“It can’t be taken out on [the referee],” Gillian said. “It has to be channeled into something positive and he has to do that better and our guys need to take care of the ball better and we need to do that together better.”
It’s a new day at Longwood, if only because the season arc actually matters. The Lancers are less than a month away from their Big South opener, a day Gillian (a former George Mason assistant) dreamed of for almost a decade after enduring the nomadic existence of a Division I independent.
Games like Monday’s are the sort low-major teams play at this time of year. The trouble is, Gillian found himself playing them whenever and wherever until the never-ending musical chairs of musical realignment hit the sleepy Virginia countryside about an hour southwest of Richmond earlier this year.
The guarantee games are confined to the season’s early stages now, and Longwood has two months and the prospect of a conference tournament to look forward to once the calendar flips to 2013. And it needs it, too, what with a roster that brought exactly 36 career starts into the season.
A pair of freshmen, Nik Brown and Lucas Woodhouse, are playing double-digit minutes in the backcourt. They combined for 12 turnovers in 41 minutes against the Hoyas (8-1).
Then there’s Kessens, who managed 11 points and six rebounds and was averaging a double-double entering Monday.
“He’s good and he’ll be real good in the Big South,” Gillian said. “He can make 15-footers. He’s good with the ball. He can throw it to the open man. He can rebound.”
He is, for certain, a fine piece for the Lancers to build around. But if they muster any significant advances this year, it will come only after reducing turnovers. Longwood has committed at least 15 turnovers in every game, with five 20-giveaway outings already.
While the Hoyas’ press proved effective, it was was also notable how often Longwood simply threw the ball away. Seven players committed multiple turnovers against Georgetown.
“Unforced errors, that’s a good way to put it,” Gillian said. “We’ve been making those mistakes and certainly we’re not going to be where we’re capable of being if we continue to do that. It’s an issue we’ve had. We have inexperienced guys. We have guys that have not played together very much. The combination of that is it’s not one guy making six or eight mistakes a game. It’s a team effort in the wrong direction.”
Still, this is a very different year. Rather than wandering a series of games against random opponents (last year’s January schedule featured a five-game road swing to Brown, Dartmouth, Fairleigh Dickinson, Eastern Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast, while the season wrapped up with a trek to Gonzaga and Seattle) with no carrot at the end of the stick, Longwood has a promise of at least a shot at the postseason.
That means a lot has changed for the Lancers, including the value of losses like Monday’s.
“The approach to a degree changes because these lumps you’re taking now, I’m not going to be sitting around in mid-January killing guys if we turn the ball over 18 times,” Gillian said. “I’m going to say ‘This is a mistake, this is a mistake.’ We’ll have given ample opportunity to everybody to figure it out. I’ll have it figured out. We’ll be doing better by then.”