In a first for the LIU Blackbirds men’s basketball team this season, every player on the roster made a field goal in what turned out to be a laughter at the Wellness Center with Blackbirds blowing out the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, 92-67, on Saturday night. With this win, LIU Brooklyn has now won ten out of their last eleven games and is now tied as least record-wise with Robert Morris at 10-4 although Robert Morris has the tiebreaker over LIU thanks to their head-to-head win.
Before LIU Brooklyn was able to pull away late in the first half, this game was very tight for the first 17 minutes. In fact, they were nine ties and eight lead changes through that span. LIU was missing their free throws and were actually getting out-rebounded by the Knights keeping them in the game. The Blackbirds used a 10-2 run in the final 3:19 of the first half to take a eight-point lead into the half. The run was started by a Booker Hucks three and then a couple of layups from C.J. Garner and Jamal Olasewere and then Jason Brickman found Gerrell Martin in the left corner wide-open for a three right before the half to get some breathing room. Before this run, neither team had a lead bigger than three points at any point. “We grinned that first half to get that eight-point lead.” said LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri. “There was a lot of fouls. We had to adjust to the way the game was being called. Our guys did a good job adjusting in the second half.”
LIU Brooklyn started pulling away immediately in the second half. By the under-12 minute media timeout, LIU was up 20 and went pretty much on cruise control the rest of the way as FDU never got any closer than seventeen. “What we talked about at halftime was really simple, they were 12 of 13 from the foul line (in the first half), our philosophy is limit their free throws.” said Perri. “So we didn’t do a great job of that in the first half and they were out-rebounding us. We haven’t been out-rebounded by an opponent since Wagner.” LIU was -3 in the rebound margin in the first half although they were +1 in offensive rebound margin. They took care of that in the second half finishing the game +7 in rebound margin. LIU were only +3 in free throws attempted in the first half, they ended up being +11 in free throw attempted for the game. It was a very nice second-half turnaround.
Jamal Olasewere once again lead LIU Brooklyn in points and rebounding with 18 points and 7 rebounds. It was his eighth straight game with at least 17 points. It wasn’t his best performance as he was 7 for 17 from the field and had a hard time at the free throw line going 4 for 11. C.J. Garner finished with 15 on eight shots and grabbed 6 rebounds. Booker Hucks was once again feeling it from behind the arc as he went 4 of 6 from three and finished with 14 points. Jason Brickman finished with six points, nine assists and just one turnover. He actually had seven assists at the half. LIU got a very solid effort from their bench on Saturday. LIU got a season-high 42 bench points in this game including Hucks’ 14 and a career-high tying eight points and seven rebounds from Khalil Murphy and seven points from Gerrell Martin.
One other bench player who has been a bright spot for the Blackbirds of late has been redshirt sophomore Troy Joseph. He finished with eight points and five rebounds before fouling out for the first time in his college career. Joseph has averaged 7.3 ppg and 5.3 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench in the last three games and has been getting double-digit minutes in six of last seven games. Perri has started to trust Joseph and Joseph has been taken advantage of his increased minutes, playing well on both ends of the court. “I’ve been trying to focus on rebounding because I know with Julian (Boyd) being out and stuff we need to pick up in every aspect.” said Joseph. “I just try to focus on rebounding and if I have an open shot, I try to knock it down and try to offensive rebound especially. (On defense) I try and contest shots and I try to use my length and at least put a hand up.”
For FDU, Mathias Seilund had a team-high 17 points off the bench. Kinu Rochford scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes. Yves Jules finished with 10 on 11 shots.
LIU scored 1.22 points per possession (76 possessions) while giving up 0.89 points per possession on defense (75 possessions). LIU shot 51% from the field and 53% from three. They were bad from the free throw line shooting just 20-37 for 53%. They got to better than that during the critical next four games.
So after an 0-3 start to the NEC season, LIU has rebounded to be in a tied with RMU for first in the NEC. It has been remarkable and quite honestly, unexpected 10-1 run especially after Julian Boyd went down for the season in December, to get them back to the top of the NEC standings. “I just feel like we have all bought in to coach’s philosophy.” said LIU’s leading scorer Jamal Olasewere. “Early on we struggled then we picked it back up. Julian goes down. Some people begin to think it’s over. We just picked it up. Troy is coming off the bench very strong. E.J. (Reed) has picked up his play, I think he is the rookie of the year already. C.J. has definitely picked up his play while Julian has been out. He has picked up his scoring, he is a great one-on-one player. I feel like we have all bought in and we all played like a team and that is going to take us over the top.”
“It been really wacky.” said Jack Perri regarding this NEC season for his team that now sees them back at the top. “Just talking NEC and you have those suspensions early so that got us off to a rocky start which got compounded with the Wagner game to be honest with you with Jamal and C.J. were a little out of it. Then they got their wits back and then we starting playing a little bit better. Started to figure it out. We were fortunate with the FDU game at their place. Our guys just started buying in. They have really listened and really have done a good job that way. I’m proud of them for that. We just got to continue to do it.”
Up next, the final four regular season games, all against teams who are .500 or better in conference. All against teams who are currently four through eight in the NEC. It starts on Thursday with a tough road game at a hot Mount St. Mary’s who has won five of their six and have lost only twice at home all season. Then LIU has to go to Wagner who has won three of four and six of eight. They end the season at home against Sacred Heart who has lost four straight but has wins against Bryant and Quinnipiac before wrapping up the regular season with Quinnipiac four straight and seven of their last nine and has beaten Robert Morris and Wagner of late. LIU is pretty much at a point where if they want to get the one-seed for the NEC tournament, they are probably going to have to run the table to get it. LIU still needs help, they don’t control their destiny for the one-seed. They do control it for a top four seed and at least one home playoff game although they are surrounded by teams who currently have wins against them head-to-head with the exception of Bryant. A slip up and at this junction of the season now could be very costly. LIU might as well start thinking their run to a third straight NEC championship begins Thursday because in actuality, that might be the case.
Notes: Before the game, C.J. Garner was honored with getting his 1000th point for his LIU Brooklyn career and Jason Brickman was also honored for becoming LIU’s all-time assist leader. Jamal Olasewere is now fourth on the LIU all-time scoring list with 1725 points, passing James Williams on the list. With ten more rebounds, Olasewere will be the first NEC player ever to score 1700 points and collect 900 rebounds for his career and will be the fifth LIU player to have 900 boards.