Olasewere and Garner had career days on Senior Day in win vs Quinnipiac
Senior Day is usually an emotional day for any senior student-athlete. The seniors get a chance to enjoy a special moment with their family and friends and loved ones and the fans get a chance to thank them for the good times they gave us. This was a memorable Senior Day for the five departing LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds at the Wellness Center on Saturday afternoon.
Not only did they get the admiration and recognition they most certainly deserved as a class who returned this program back to elite level of the NEC but they also got themselves a huge home win against the Quinnipiac Bobcats which earned them the number three seed in this week’s NEC men’s basketball tournament. It was fitting that on Senior Day that two LIU seniors, Jamal Olasewere and C.J. Garner, had themselves career performances to lift them to a 98-90 win at the WRAC and in the process, giving themselves a home game on Wednesday night.
Before the game, the five seniors, Brandon Thompson, Booker Hucks, Kenny Onyechi, C.J. Garner and Jamal Olasewere were recognized and honored for their playing careers at LIU. The final senior recognized, Jamal Olasewere, was easily the most emotional of all. He fought back tears as he was being announced and got a huge hug from his mom and then got love from each of his teammates before collecting a large picture frame with pictures of him during his LIU career. Olasewere took that emotion and went to work immediately off the opening tip.
Olasewere had himself a monster first half with 17 points, half of LIU’s 34 first half points. Yet, Quinnipiac was doing their best to get themselves a NEC quarterfinal home game. Ironically, it was one of Olasewere’s good friends from back home, Maryland-native Quinnipiac guard Zaid Hearst, who was trying to put a damper to LIU’s festivities. Hearst scored 14 first half points and Dave Johnson with his twelve points gave Quinnipiac a nine halftime lead.
The second half was a different story. LIU started the half on a 16-2 run to quickly erase the nine-point deficit and take a 50-45 lead they would not relinquish.The second half belonged to LIU’s two big seniors Olasewere and Garner.
Garner scored 26 second half points on his way to a career-high 30 points. He surpassed his previous career-high of 25 points, which he also got against Quinnipiac last season, in that second half. “I was trying to play off of (Olasewere’s) energy. I’ve seen that he really wanted to win tonight. I knew I had to come out and step it up in the second half.” said Garner regarding his incredible second half. “I told (Olasewere) at halftime, I got you. My shots weren’t falling but I told him I will be there in the second half.” Olasewere had nothing but praise for his teammate. “I have to give credit to (Garner)” said Olasewere about Garner’s second half show. “He had four points in the first half. To come out the way he did (in the second half), to know what we had on the line. To come out there and have a total change of focus, all the credit to him. Just a great, great player.”
Olasewere continued where he left off in the first half and went on to finish with a career-high 33 points as well as grab ten rebounds. “We couldn’t go out like that.” said Olasewere regarding his team’s poor first half. “There was too much on the line. We couldn’t let this be the last one in this gym.”
LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri couldn’t believe the performance his seniors put on during Senior Day. “Those guys are just unbelievable. When the lights are on in a big game, you don’t want anyone else besides C.J. Garner and Jamal Olasewere. I mean both of them. They always come up big. They were tremendous tonight and I’m glad they get another home game.”
The Blackbirds scored 62 points in that second half which was the most points they scored in any half this entire season. Talk about saving the best for last. LIU shot 55.2% from the field from the field and shot a scorching 68% in the second half. They also did most of their damage from three in the second half hitting 5 of 7 threes to go 7 of 19 from the game.
The Blackbirds stepped it up defensively in the second half especially on their three-point defense where Quinnipiac was only 4 of 12 from three in the second half. LIU who was out-rebounded by ten in the first half from the nation’s leading rebounding team, out-rebounded the Bobcats 19-15 in the second half. LIU scored 1.236 points per possession (78 possessions) and allowed 1.233 points per possession (73 possessions).
After a hot first half, Zaid Hearst had a pretty quiet second half with only four to finish with 18 points. Dave Johnson and Ousmane Drame off the bench had good game for Quinnipiac with 24 and 21 respectively.
Jason Brickman had eight points and 10 assists. The other seniors were involved in this game as well. Brandon Thompson had his strongest game in a while with 11 points and played a solid defensive game. Booker Hucks had a tough matchup against Quinnipiac bigs just he gave a solid eight minutes, scoring three points. Kenny Onyechi fouled out in 19 minutes with two points but was given credit by Perri after the game for his competitiveness against Quinnipiac’s front line.
Olasewere did a couple of things with his 33 points on Saturday. One, he passed 1800 points for his career. Two, his 1804 career points are now second all-time on LIU Brooklyn scoring list passing Charles Jones and Robert Cole. He is now 26 points away from becoming LIU’s men’s basketball all-time leading scorer.
When asked about who they would like to play on Wednesday, Olasewere couldn’t care less. “Just keep them coming…it doesn’t really matter who we play, we just got to play Blackbird basketball.” Jack Perri had the same sentiments. “I’m glad these guys get one (at home)…I don’t really care who we play.”
Next up for LIU Brooklyn, it is the NEC tournament and the quarterfinal round. LIU’s opponent will be…the Quinnipiac Bobcats. That’s right. Wednesday night we get to watch a rematch of this exact game. Wagner had to lose tonight to Monmouth for LIU to get the #2 seed. Wagner beat Monmouth, 67-57 to take the #2 seed. So here is the NEC tournament bracket. The tournament goes through the #1 seed Robert Morris as long as they stay in it.
Now, the postseason begins and the quest for the NEC tournament three-peat being on Wednesday night. It all start at home at the WRAC. It is a whole lot better than having to start this quest on the road where no team who has had to play three NEC tournament games on the road has ever won it under the current home court advantage format. Time for the madness to begin!