It wasn’t just another quiet, lazy Sunday afternoon for either the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds or St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers. In front of a boisterous crowd at the Barclays Center, LIU hit some clutch shots down the stretch and also got some help through an intentional foul call with 56 seconds left to play to stave off a feisty Terrier effort in the second half to win 83-75 to sweep both games of the season series in the battle between the two Brooklyn schools.
Just like in their first meeting back at the Pope Center on January 24th, it was a tale of two halves for both teams but with a difference. LIU Brooklyn was the team who played well in the first half while SFC seem to struggle to get stops on the defensive end. LIU was also were hitting perimeter shots. They knocked down 50% of their threes in the first half while SFC struggled, making just 25% of theirs.
But unlike in their last meeting, SFC was the team that come out of the halftime break with a little more sense of urgency. It was as if they realized that a loss would not just put them in pretty much an unlikely spot to get any kind of home-court advantage for the NEC tournament but they could be bumped off the NEC tournament playoff picture altogether. Yet, LIU was doing enough to keep it at a very comfortable distance. Then the first of two cruel intention-als happened.
The second half featured not just one but two intentional foul calls by the officials which played a major part in how the second half of this game played out. The first intentional foul went against LIU as a streaking P.J. Santavenere for SFC scored on a driving layup to the hoop and got a foul on LIU’s C.J. Garner. One official deemed the foul as intentional so Santavenere was awarded a pair of free throws after the made shot. SFC keep possession and on cue Santavenere sinks a three to give the Terriers a seven-point possession which took the game from a comfortable eleven-point lead for the Blackbirds to getting SFC right back in the game down just four points at 53-49. “It was a huge play. It was a huge momentum swing for them and made a game that we had complete control of.” said LIU head coach Jack Perri after the game.
The intentional foul sparked a 22-11 run that eventually tied the game at 64 with just over six minutes left to play. A little over a minute later, the Terriers would eventually take their first lead of the game on another made shot by Santavenere who had a great game for SFC. The game would go back and forth into the final two minutes. Then several interesting plays happened that could have made this game go either way.
First, with 1:33 left and LIU down one, LIU’s Jason Brickman passed it over to teammate C.J. Garner on the left side. P.J. Santavenere knocked the ball away and falls over Garner’s foot and the ball goes out of boards. The ref near the play awards the ball to LIU saying Santavenere fall was due to incidental contact. The SFC contingent obviously disagreed with the call. On the ensuing LIU possession, Jamal Olasewere would hit a layup in the paint to give LIU a one-point lead with 1:23 left. Then on the ensuing Terriers possession, SFC would turn the ball over and SFC’s Jalen Cannon looked to have grabbed LIU’s E.J. Reed’s foot and intentionally knock him to the floor. One of the officals caught it and gave Cannon an intentional foul. Reed calmly sunk both free throws to give LIU a three-point lead. Jamal Olasewere would seal it with a tough banker in the lane to put LIU up five with :28 remaining.
In the postgame, Perri credited his team’s poise for pulling out this tough win. “We talk about poise every game. Every game we talk about poise before the game, in the middle of the game, throughout. It’s a forty minute game and we understand that and there’s going to be run within it. We know we have the talent and we know we have the ability to win games like that. It’s more something that just carries over and you can see it in our guys eyes. They understand that and we’ve won close games before, that’s why we’ve won championships in the last two years.”
LIU offense was the key to the win on Sunday. The Blackbirds shot 50% for the game as well as 50% from behind the arc. They had their third-best points per possession output of the season with 1.219 ppp (83 points on 68 possessions). St. Francis themselves did well in particularly in the second half on the offensive end. The Terriers scored 42 second half points but gave up 44 in the first half to LIU. SFC scored 1.09 points per possession (75 points in 69 possessions) on 51% field goal shooting but only shot 2 for 11 from three including a combined 0 for 7 from Brent Jones and Ben Mockford.
For LIU, Jamal Olasewere finished with 20 points on 10 shots but was held to just four rebounds. C.J. Garner finished with 17 points on also 10 shots. Jason Brickman finished with 14 points and 9 assists on just three turnovers. It was two different halves for Brickman. In the first half, he was more of a distributor with 3 points and 7 assists. In the second half, SFC made him more into a scorer and he scored 11 points in the half with just two assists and two turnovers. Brandon Thompson had a solid first half with 6 points knocking down a pair of threes but he had a rather quiet second half with only two points to finish with eight. LIU got solid bench contributions in this game in particularly from E.J. Reed (7 pts, 5 rebs) who was 5 of 6 from the free throw line and Troy Joseph (7 pts, 5 rebs) who did a really good job competing in his 19 minutes.
For SFC, who has now dropped their third straight and sixth game in the last eight, Akeem Johnson led all scorers with 22 points on 11 shots. P.J. Santavenere had a perfect line, 6-6 FG, 1-1 3PT FG, 3-3 FT for 16 points in only 20 minutes of play. He was their spark in the second half. Dre Calloway scored nine. Jalen Cannon had an off game with only eight points and five rebounds in 30 minutes. His intentional foul near the end really cost the Terriers. This loss puts SFC at 5-7 in the NEC and they are in now in a tie with Mount St. Mary’s for the eighth and final NEC playoff spot. Three weeks ago, they were in a three-way tie for second. This was tough week for the Terriers losing two close games to two of the upper tier NEC teams. “We’ve had a lot of tough losses. We’ve had a lot of good wins.” said SFC’s head coach Glenn Braica after the loss. “I got tough guys, they’ll bounce back. They’ve bounce back all year.”
For the Blackbirds, this completes what I dubbed a “make-or-break” stretch where they went 5-1 with the loss obviously being the tough home loss to Robert Morris last week. Two of the next three games are on the road with a home game sandwiched in between. The next three games comes against teams LIU has already beaten this season. LIU goes to Monmouth Thursday, takes on FDU at the Wellness Center Saturday and then heads to Mount St. Mary’s the following Thursday. LIU needs to keep the peddle on the metal and keep this current roll going. The last three regular season games won’t be any picnic with games at Wagner, vs Sacred Heart and vs Quinnipiac. We will learn more tomorrow after the Sacred Heart-Bryant game where LIU stands going into the final six regular season games. Some big games are coming up in the league in the next three weeks. Time to get ready to buckle up because it’s going to be a wild and crazy ride to the finish.