How quickly the season comes and goes? After Thursday night’s game against Wagner, LIU Brooklyn will be halfway through their regular season having played 15 of their 30 scheduled games. With that, let’s breakdown the team and see what has worked and what hasn’t and what LIU will need to improve or change to get back on track as they head into the second half of their season.
Starting Five: B-
Let’s take a look first at the guards. Jason Brickman has been the best guard on the roster this season. Brickman is fourth on the team in scoring with a 10.5 points per game average. He is currently fourth in the nation in assists with 8.3 assists per game. His shooting numbers are insanely good. He has an effective field goal percentage of 66.1% which is the best in the NEC. The criticism of Brickman is that he doesn’t shoot enough. He is fifth on the team in shot attempts (90) and takes the least number of shots amongst the starting five. Jason also has played the most minutes on the team (35.6).
C.J. Garner’s number are down a bit compared to last year. Although he is the third leading scorer on team at 11.3 points per game, his scoring is down from 12.6 ppg he averaged last season. He is getting to the free throw line less this season. Gardner is averaging just 4 free throws a game unlike last season where he was getting to the line 5.2 times a game. He is stepping up on the boards, grabbing a career-high 4.2 rebounds a game thus far.
Brandon Thompson who was the new addition to the starting lineup this season in place of departed Michael Culpo. For as much grief as Thompson took early on, his numbers are pretty comparable to what Culpo did last season.
By the looks of it, Thompson is actually pulling his weight offensively halfway through the season. LIU Brooklyn will take that and more from him as NEC play rolls through.
Moving on the front court, Jamal Olasewere is having his best season as a Blackbird. Olasewere is first on the team in scoring (18.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.4 rpg). However, he is second on the team in personal fouls with 41 and has fouled out of two games this season and gotten four fouls in another five. With the injury to Julian Boyd, Olasewere has to play smarter to keep himself in games. He is too valuable to be sitting on the bench as his NEC-leading 26.4 points per 40 minutes would demonstrate. He is got to learn that the more he plays, the better a scoring weapon he becomes. Keeping him on the floor is critical as LIU looks lost on offense without him.
Julian Boyd who was averaging 18.5 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game before his knee injury was once again having a NEC Player of the Year-type season. The team has gone 1-5 since his injury. Kenny Onyechi has now taken over his spot in the starting lineup.
Kenny Onyechi who was out due to injury for the team’s first six games has returned and has started the last four games for the Blackbirds and looks like he will remain the starter for the rest of the season. His foot injury severely affected his playing time and his effectiveness. He seems to now be rounding into shape and has at least learned to tolerate whatever discomfort his foot is giving him after he had his best game of the season last time out vs Quinnipiac (16 points in 28 minutes played – both season-highs). Another thing to note is Onyechi is shooting 81.8% from the free throw line (9 for 11). Onyechi is a career 53.6% free throw shooter. It seems like he really worked on his free throw shooting over the summer. He shows great form and patience at the line. Hopefully, it is not just a hot spell. Onyechi will be a key to this season if he is able to contribute 25 or so minutes and make teams play down low.
Booker Hucks also missed the team’s first six games with various injuries but he has helped solidify a bench that was lacking any kind of spark. His solid defense and his early three-point accuracy (he hit his first 6 three-point attempts) was a great addition to the LIU Brooklyn bench. He has gone on to have a 12-point game and a career-high 20-point game this season. Look for Hucks to continue getting solid playing time to spell Olasewere and Onyechi in the front court.
Freshman E.J. Reed is currently in the running for NEC Rookie of the Year. He is currently a two-time NEC Player of the Week and has seen his playing time and scoring increase since Boyd went down for the season. He got his first two collegiate starts last week and proved he could hold his own on the court. He has scored double-digits in the last three LIU games. He still makes plenty of freshman mistakes as you would expect. He leads the team in fouls with 46. Head coach Jack Perri has mentioned Reed will need to be counted on in this second half of the season and he will need to play well if LIU is to make some noise come March.
Khalil Murphy (1.5 ppg) has played in 12 of 14 games including two starts after Boyd got injured. Murphy has greatly struggled shooting the ball this season. He is shooting just 27.6% from the field including 0 for 9 from three. He is shooting an awful 15.4% from the free throw line. He had four turnovers in 10 minutes vs Sacred Heart last week. If Murphy doesn’t start taking better shots and making some, he will find himself out of the mix.
As for the guard, Gerrell Martin (4.6 ppg) has yet to have himself a breakout game for the Blackbirds. He did have a nice game vs Hofstra where he scored 12 points (10 of those in the first half) but otherwise he hasn’t done anything that would make you say he should be playing more. I thought he would be pushing Thompson for more playing time but he really hasn’t done that.
Troy Joseph (1.7 ppg) hasn’t gotten a ton of playing time yet (6.8 minutes per game in 10 games played). He has shown some ability in the limited time he has played. Maybe he will get a chance at some playing time now that he is back from his two-game suspension.
D.J. Griggs (1.9 ppg) started the season looking like the college game was moving too fast for him. He only had two points through the first seven games. Then he went back down to Texas and got to see his family and friends while down there at Rice and scored 7 points in a 11-minute performance which has sort of sparked his play. He has since scored in every game he has played including getting his first collegiate start in LIU’s last game vs Quinnipiac on Saturday where he played a career-high 33 minutes. The one thing the bench overall lacks is consistency. Don’t know how Jack Perri is going to be able to find it but if he can get them to play consistently then LIU should be in good shape.
The offense has done what you would expect. The Blackbirds lead the NEC (46th in the nation) in scoring offense at 76.4 points per game. They have the second-best effective field goal percentage at 51.3% just .2% behind first-place FDU. LIU Brooklyn had an offensive points per possession of 1.05, an NEC-best. The team is still running just not as much as they have in the past due to injuries and playing some rather tough opposition (e.g. Maryland, Kentucky). LIU has done a much better job this season in terms of turnover rate. They are second in the NEC in turnover rate (17.8) just a shade behind first-place CCSU. When Boyd was healthy, LIU had two players (Boyd & Olasewere) averaging over 18 points per game. Although LIU is without Boyd, they still have four players (Olasewere, Garner, Brickman, Thompson) averaging 10 points or more per game. LIU is also the top free-throwing shooting team in the NEC as they have the top player in the nation in fouls drawn and third in the nation in free-throw attempts in Jamal Olasewere. LIU is also the top assist team in the NEC (15.0 apg) thanks mostly to Jason Brickman.
Any Blackbird fan can tell you this team has never been a defensive-minded team. Yet, the LIU Brooklyn defensive effort this season has been pretty much poor for the most part. With the exception of Columbia, Lafayette and Manhattan games (which happened to be all at the Wellness Center), LIU has allowed over 1.0 points per possession in every game this season. LIU is second-worst in scoring defense at 78.7 points per game. They have the fourth-worst score in the NEC 1.09 points per possession allowed. They also have a second-worst 51.1 field goal percentage allowed. They have allowed at least 80 points to the opposition in eight of fourteen games including three games allowing over 90 points. Not all is bad. Their rebounding is actually not that bad at 30.1 rebounds per game (6th in NEC). They are third in the NEC in blocks per game (3.6) and sixth in steals per game (7.0).
I believe first-year head coach Jack Perri has had to deal with more stuff in his first few months on the job than most coaches usually have to deal with in their first year. First, he lost a key recruit (Taurean Waller-Prince) who asked out of his letter of intent late in the summer, months after the coaching change took place. Then in September came the arrests of the four of his players at a school party which resulted in them being suspended for the first two conference games. He then starts the season with a four-game losing streak. As he started turning the season back around with a three-game winning streak at the Wellness Center he loses his leading-scorer Julian Boyd for the season with an torn ACL at Rice. Since then this team has gone 1-5 losing the last five in the row. The offense when Boyd was around looked the same as it has the last two years which ended in NEC championships. Since Boyd has gone down, the offense has looked inconsistent at best especially when Jamal Olasewere has been out due to foul trouble. Perri has had a hard time finding the right mix of guys since the Boyd injury. Then he loses three players as they serve their suspensions, so he has to go with an eight-man lineup on the road for the first two NEC games. Now, he has to figure out how to reintegrate these guys back into the lineup while starting to get wins since they are now in a 0-2 NEC hole. Perri will have his work cut out for him the remainder of the season. He is got to get his team to buy into playing some defense or the offense will need to play at a level that teams are just not able to keep up. Without Boyd, the offense changes somewhat so it is up to the LIU Brooklyn defense to get rebounds and force teams into some bad shooting or else they will have major problems going forward.
Outlook for Second Half:
With sixteen games left to play in the NEC, LIU Brooklyn could get at least a first-round home game. I think at least 11 wins will likely do it. It definitely won’t be easy. They will need to play a lot better on the road where they have struggled this season (1-7) and maintain their Wellness Center dominance (31 straight wins) and find a way to win at the Barclays Center (0-2). Jamal Olasewere will need to be the “go-to” guy LIU is looking for him to be. Jason Brickman needs to keep playing like he has been playing the last three games. C.J. Garner has got to step up his scoring a little more. E.J. Reed has got to continue his progress and not let the typical freshmen setbacks deter him. Kenny Onyechi need to have more Quinnipiac-like games and be an impact player in the front court. The bench players have shown they are capable of stepping up when they were asked to do so.
If Jack Perri can get this team back on track like they were before this recent slide, this conference can be had. This is a wide-open league this season. I’m not saying that LIU will still win it but I don’t think they are out of it yet. Robert Morris is in the same 0-2 hole LIU is in, Wagner has a tough schedule ahead (five of next six on the road), we don’t know yet if Bryant can sustain their early success even though they’ve been looking pretty impressive (win at Robert Morris). The road to a third-straight NEC championship may have gotten side tracked but there is still time to get it back on track. It all starts Thursday with an important, pretty much must-win game against Wagner. LIU can’t afford to fall any further behind.