In a week that has been filled with some big time buzzer-beaters in games all across the country, you can now add Brandon Thompson’s three-point buzzer beater to the collection. Thompson buried a game-tying three with an FDU player in his face and no time left on the clock to send the game into overtime and tonight’s stars Jamal Olasewere and CJ Garner did the rest in overtime for the Blackbirds to leave Stratis Arena with an spectacular 79-75 win on Thursday night. It was LIU’s first road NEC win of the season and their first road win since the season-turning game at Rice on December 12th.
This game featured not one but two buzzer-beaters. Before you had Thompson’s heroics at the end of the second half, FDU’s Mustafaa Jones hit a half-court shot that banked off the glass and went in at the end of the first half to cut an LIU four-point lead down to one at the half at 36-35. FDU started the second half on a 13-0 run after Kenny Onyechi scored the first basket of the second half to take a 48-38 lead. The Blackbirds’ settled back down and went on 14-3 run of their own to regain the lead at 54-53 with 6:14 left to play. The lead would go back and forth until FDU’s Melquan Bolding canned a couple of big threes on two straight possessions to put the Knights up five with 32 seconds remaining.
Cue the heroics for LIU. First, CJ Garner, who by the way, was greatly improved his three-pointing shooting this season, came down and knocked down a huge three to get within two with 21 seconds remaining. Bolding, a 69% free throw shooter coming into this game, missed a pair but Xavier Harris got a huge offensive put-back and put FDU up 4 with 13 seconds left.
On the next LIU possession, Jamal Olasewere would miss a running layup but flying in and dunking the ball one-handed over a FDU player was freshman E.J. Reed to cut the FDU lead to two. Then LIU sent Bolding back to the free throw line for a one-and-one. Bolding made the first but missed the second and the ball went out of bounds back to LIU.
FDU head coach Greg Vetrone then calls a 30-second timeout to set up his defense. LIU were out of timeouts but this timeout helped LIU head coach Jack Perri setup a play for the last shot. Garner took the inbounds, gave it to Olasewere who handed it back to Garner who raced up the court and found Thompson on the left, open from three. Thompson with the FDU player bearing down on him sunk the three to send the game into overtime. “We just practice that all the time” said Thompson whose game-tying three was his only points of the game in what was a struggling game for him overall. “I knew when C.J. saw me and we made the eye connection then he threw it to me and the only thing I could think of was shoot it.”
In overtime, Olasewere and Garner took over from there, scoring all but two of LIU points to give the Blackbirds a desperately needed road win to get them to 2-3 in the NEC and give them back-to-back wins for the first time in over a month.
“It was a great game.” said Perri after the win. “We didn’t execute a lot offensively in the second half. I thought we did a poor job of executing to be honest expect for that last play. We work on that a lot and to be able to get Brandon that shot, I’m glad for him because he really struggled during the game.” Thompson finished with just those three points on 1 of 6 shooting in 23 minutes. Gerrell Martin didn’t play in this game with his fractured nose so Perri went to seldom-used Troy Joseph and Joseph played well. He played a career-high 30 minutes in the game. “Troy stepped up. He did a good job.” said Perri of Joseph’s play. “He allowed me to go to 2-3 zone and that’s where we ended up getting some stops.”
No question though, LIU wouldn’t even have a chance if it wasn’t for the big time performance from the two seniors from Silver Spring, MD, Jamal Olasewere and C.J. Garner. Olasewere finished the game with a season-high 30 points and a new career-high 16 rebounds for his second-straight double-double and fifth of the season. “Knowing that we lost Julian (Boyd), I knew I had to get on the boards heavy.” said Olasewere after the game. After going to the free throw line just twice in the last game vs Mount St. Mary’s, Olasewere went to the foul line 15 times, hitting 11 free throws. Another great stat for Olasewere is that he stayed out of foul trouble once again and played 43 minutes.
C.J. Garner had his second straight strong game for LIU. He finished with a season-high 23 points (7 of 14 FGs) on a season-high 39 minutes. He once again made a big three in this game like he did on Saturday at the Barclays Center versus Mount St. Mary’s. He is now shooting 50% from three (12 for 24) and is 9 for 13 in three-point field goals in his last four games. He’s already matched his career-high for three-point attempts in a season which he set last season. His hot outside shooting of late has been a catalyst for LIU. “He was awesome” said Perri of Garner’s excellent game. “He was tremendous. He might of hit the biggest shot of the game when we were down five and he hit that three. That allowed us obviously to make that last play. He’s got that great ability to get in the lane. He is such a tough cover. He’s a point guard but has the ability to score. I’m glad the last two games, he really stepped up his scoring which he needs to do.”
Both teams were held to under 1.0 points per possession. LIU finished with 0.96 ppp (79 points in 82 possessions). They shot just 41.3% (26-63) from the field and 38.1% (8-21) from three. They were able to get to the free throw line 30 times compared to 14 for FDU. LIU missed 11 free throws which nearly came back to bite them. LIU defense did hold FDU to 0.99 ppp (75 points in 76 possessions) but the Knights shot pretty well with a 48.3 FG% and a 52.9 3PT FG%. LIU out-rebounded FDU by 12 although they committed 19 turnovers. Eleven turnovers from both Garner and Jason Brickman.
Brickman had a rough game with 5 assists to 6 turnovers and only five points. E.J. Reed came back down to Earth a little bit in this one. He was plagued with foul trouble all game long, picking up quick fouls. He did had a huge play with follow put-back dunk that was huge before the game-tying three.
For FDU, Bolding finished with a team-high 22 points. Lonnie Robinson scored 16. Kinu Rochford fouled out in 33 minutes and scored 14 on 7 of 9 shooting.
This game was a big confidence boost for the Blackbirds. It is always great when you take a win away from the jaws of defeat like that did. The team’s effort has improved over the last couple of games and they getting great senior leadership from their two best scorers, Olasewere and Garner. LIU can get find themselves back at .500 on Saturday as they will look to make it three straight wins as they head back home to the Wellness Center to take on Monmouth who beat St. Francis Brooklyn on Thursday on the road. Hopefully, we are now seeing LIU finally turning the corner on their season and getting back in the NEC race.