As I wrote last week, the six-game stretch the LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball team are currently in, is a make-or-break point to their season due to the opponents they have to face. It started off with a bang this week with two games on the road against teams who are ahead of them in the NEC standings in St. Francis Brooklyn and Bryant. Each school had special events to draw huge, loud crowds in support but in the end, the Blackbirds came out of it with two huge wins. For this post, I’m “borrowing” the ever-popular five thoughts idea and give my five thoughts regarding these two huge wins which have LIU Brooklyn back within a game of first-place.
1. Big game experience helped out Blackbirds: LIU Brooklyn had to face two sold-out, student-heavy and very loud crowds, but they didn’t let the opposing crowd bother them. That comes with the experience of playing many big games on major stages both at home and on the road over the past two and half seasons. LIU’s experience playing big games during the NEC regular-season and postseason as well as playing high-major opponents on the road and playing in the NCAA tournament twice have prepared them well for games such as the ones they played this week. They showed patience and poise. They didn’t panic in either game when they were down double-digits and made strong second-half comebacks each time. Veterans like C.J. Garner, Jamal Olasewere, Jason Brickman, and Booker Hucks really stepped up at major moments in both games.
2. Jason Brickman is back!: Before this week, I was beginning to wonder if the amount of minutes Jason Brickman has had to play this season was beginning to wear on him and hurt his productivity. Last week, he only averaged 6.5 ppg, 5 apg and 5 turnovers per game in the two games that week. He rebounded in a big way this week. He averaged 10 ppg, 10.5 apg and just 4 turnovers per game. Even though, he was 4 for 12 versus Bryant, he hit probably the two biggest shots of the game for LIU with his back-to-back threes late in the first half when LIU was down by 13 and got the ball rolling for the Blackbirds. Brickman was a huge contributor to LIU’s very successful week.
3. The tale of two halves: In both games this week, LIU was down double-digits at the half. Both times they used big second halves to win. Oddly enough, their two first halves couldn’t be anymore different offensively. Against SFC, LIU shot 25% in the first half. Against Bryant, they shot 60% in the first half and were still down seven at halftime. LIU waited until the second half to show up defensively in both games. Against SFC, they held them to 41% shooting and just 25% from three. Against Bryant, they held them to 40% shooting and only 16% from three. LIU was +10 in second-half rebounding vs SFC and +8 vs Bryant. LIU was also +10 in fouls drawn vs SFC and even vs Bryant.
4. Olasewere and Reed can’t stay out of first half foul trouble: LIU head coach Jack Perri made light of it during the postgame press conference after LIU’s win vs Monmouth but it was no laughing matter during the two games this week. Both E.J. Reed and Jamal Olasewere found themselves sitting on the bench in the first half thanks to foul trouble. Against SFC, Reed got three first half fouls. Against Bryant, Olasewere got three in the first half and Reed got two. Miraculously, neither one fouled out of either game. Reed has fouled out four times this season and has flirted with fouling out with four fouls in another eight games including six of the last seven games. Olasewere has fouled out three times and had gotten four fouls in another six. These two guys are seemingly in foul trouble every game. As evident in both games this week, they both need to be on the floor for LIU to win. Reed is a candidate for NEC Rookie of the Year. Olasewere is LIU’s go-to guy. Both guys have got to avoid silly fouls and getting themselves put on the bench with foul trouble. Without these guys in the games, LIU suffers on both ends of the court. They got to find a way to keep themselves away from getting into foul trouble.
5. Winning with a total team effort: LIU has gotten a total team effort. A different player every game has been the one to step up and go above what was expected of them. It goes from Jamal Olasewere big double-double last week vs FDU to the recent hot-streak of C.J. Garner. Now, the hot-streak of Jason Brickman with back-to-back double digit assists. E.J. Reed coming up big when he stays on the floor. Even, Booker Hucks splashing down threes vs Bryant. This winning-streak has been a collective team effort. It seems like after a very rough stretch, this team has finally come together. One guy steps up for another. It is wonderful to watch.