Longwood seniors Isaiah and Elijah Whitty were almost certainly going to play well together. The identical twins, born moments apart and now standing 6-3, have been in sync since it all started. However, there is much more to the ensemble play of this season’s Lions and that was clear on Sunday.
Longwood has height, athleticism and talent. What sets it apart is the way the group plays together. They cover for one another on defense and always look to make the extra pass on offense. Both of those things were front-and-center in the early going as they reeled off 16 unanswered points in a span of 2:50 against host Uniondale and rode off to a 73-55 victory over the defending Nassau AA champion in the Richard Brown Nassau-Suffolk Challenge on Sunday.
The Lions (13-1) haven’t won a Suffolk title since 2000 and third-year coach Patrick Hayes said this group is fixated on ending the drought. “This group has bought into the idea of putting in the work and playing for each other, unselfishly,” he said. “There were a lot of assists, a lot of people helping each other to help the team today.”
As a result, it’s a group without a single star. Isaiah Whitty and Elijah Whitty each scored 18 points and Jordan Manderson had 17 points, including five three-pointers. But 6-7 center Jarnel Rancy, who had seven points, might have been the player who influenced the game most by altering shots in the paint and grabbing rebounds to start fast breaks and get second chances.
“He saves our butts a lot,” Isaiah Whitty said. “Without him on defense, we’d be in real trouble.”
Isaiah Whitty had the first four points and then Elijah had six points on layups off the break and Manderson six points on a pair of threes in the 16-0 run that made it 17-2 just 4:31 into the game. The young Knights (12-2), who got 22 points from Rolando Meyers-Turner, never got closer than 34-27 in the second quarter.
“When we play like that, we’re confident, we’re smart and we’re together,” Elijah Whitty said. “When we play like that we can beat anybody.”
The Lions’ starting five – including Andrew Knox – has been a unit since they started as freshmen on the junior varsity. It’s the reason they play so well together. But a season ago, when they expected their breakthrough and tied for the Suffolk AA-I crown, they managed only one postseason win.
“Last year there was ‘hero ball’ where we played too much like individuals,” Manderson said. “Losing then got us in the right mentality for this season. We’re a unit that won’t break apart now.”