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Nyia Longford leads Longwood to season-opening victory

Longwood forward Nyia Longford makes the layup for

Longwood forward Nyia Longford makes the layup for two points against St. John the Baptist, Thursday, December 6, 2018 at St. John the Baptist HS. Credit: George A. Faella

Nyia Longford was ready for a fresh start.

The Longwood forward spent her offseason wondering what could have been after the Lions were upset by Ward Melville in the Suffolk AA quarterfinals last year, but those thoughts disappeared as soon as she saw the ball tipped on Thursday, when she led Longwood to a 78-36 non-conference, season-opening victory over St. John the Baptist.

“We’ve got our first win and it goes from here,” said Longford, who finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds. “Now it’s about growing and getting better and working back towards the playoffs.”

The teams exchanged baskets early and St. John the Baptist took a 7-4 lead with 6:05 left in the first quarter. It didn’t last long.

Longwood responded with an aggressive full-court press and pushed the ball in transition to wrap up the quarter on a 12-0 run.

“We’re one of those programs that once the momentum goes our way, we go,” Longwood coach James Castiglione said. “That’s our comfort zone, speeding people up and making them uncomfortable.”

Longwood didn’t slow down, continuing to bring pressure throughout the first half.

The Lions held St. John the Baptist (0-2) scoreless in the first four minutes of the second quarter and limited the Cougars to one-and-done possessions when they did get a shot off. Longford, who racked up 10 of her 15 rebounds in the opening two quarters, said Longwood’s physicality on the boards helped the Lions set the tone early.

“We had to defend and rebound,” Longford said. “That was the plan. We wanted to push the ball down the court and run. Tire them out and keep hitting shots.”

St. John the Baptist did its best to grab back some control in the second half, switching up defenses and showing a variety of man-to-man and zone looks, but Longwood didn’t bat an eyelash. Instead, the Lions moved the ball, working around defenders and finding space in the lane.

By the final whistle, nine different Longwood players scored.

“We were able to knock down shots,” Castiglione said. “We had multiple kids shooting and that makes us really hard to guard and defend.”

The Lions know they have a long season ahead of them, but after a strong showing in the opener, Longwood isn’t lacking for confidence. This is a team with its sights set on a county title and getting this win was the first step toward that run.

“We know we can win games,” Longford said. “If we do the right things, people aren’t going to be able to stop us.”

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