Longwood forward Rachel Mandaro blocked a shot so cleanly and with such physicality she sent the shooter to the floor.
The display of strength was a microcosm of a Longwood defense that executed a game plan so well that it shut down the Whitman offense in textbook fashion.
The Lions took Whitman out of its offensive rhythm early and the Wildcats never recovered as the Longwood girls basketball team cruised to a 56-30 win to claim the Suffolk Conference I championship Sunday afternoon in Middle Island.
Mandaro finished with a game-high 21 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Her work on the offensive end complemented her defensive skills. She scored six baskets after an offensive rebound and when the shot wasn’t there, she kicked the ball out to point guard Taydra Simpson or forward Danielle Wenzek for the basket.
"We shut [Jenna] Stockfeder down, Whitman’s high scorer, by keeping her out of the paint and away from the boards," Mandaro said. "We forced their shooters away from the basket and gave them no easy looks. We shut down the baseline and contested every shot. And we know Whitman moves the ball well, so we bumped the cutters and played very physical."
Sounds like Longwood carried out the game plan to near perfection.
Undersized but gritty Whitman (6-2) found the Lions' physicality to be a problem throughout the first half. Longwood (6-1) led 11-4 after the first quarter on the strength of back-to-back three-point plays. Mandaro hit a driving layup and added the free throw. Seconds later, Hannah Thompson hit a lefthanded scoop shot and hit a free throw to make it 10-4.
"They disrupted us on offense with their length and were very physical on the boards," Whitman coach Dan Trebour said. "Longwood had such a tough defense and we didn’t get many good looks on the perimeter. They doubled down on Stockfeder and we hadn’t seen that kind of size this season."
Longwood extended its lead to 23-9 at the half. Mandaro cleaned up two missed shots for put-back baskets and Simpson nailed a three-pointer in the final seconds for the 14-point advantage.
"The defense collapsed around me every time I touched the ball," said Stockfeder, who came into the game averaging 16 points and finished with nine. "They were very tough underneath the basket."
Longwood played most of the game without star center Angelene Bailey, who was hampered by early foul trouble. She still managed six points and six rebounds.
"She’s a big-time player and I thought our other players did a really nice job when she wasn’t out there," Longwood coach James Castiglione said. "Taydra directed the offense in a way that made me so proud. We moved and shared the ball well. And our defense played a tight 2-3 zone and we matched up very well."