I guess if you are a true fan of the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, the loss on Sunday night could not have been more heartbreaking and depressing then any loss we have had in quite a long while. I’ll admit, leaving the Spiro Sports Center, it was the most depressed and dejected I have felt leaving a game in maybe three years. This one really stings. LIU loses to Wagner 94-92.
LIU who was down 10 with just over two minutes to go, rallied to tie the game on a Jason Brickman three-pointer with :12.9 left only to see Latif Rivers put up a desperation shot, have the ball bounce up and hit the top of the backboard and fall into the hands of a wide-open Kenneth Ortiz and see him lay it back up and in with 0.8 seconds left to win that game. More on that in a moment. Then to add salt in the fresh wound, the students rush the court (if you found the great reason for it, please do share) not once but twice. This game now showed a glaring weakness which I will get to later.
As expected, the Spiro Sports Center was packed for the big Sunday night ESPNU-televised matchup between two NEC teams who needed to get this win and solidify their hold in the top four places of the NEC. The game lived up to the expectations. “It sounded like a championship game.” said LIU’s Jamal Olasewere after the game. “Even before, the fans were going crazy. It was definitely a championship atmosphere.”
Both teams started out the game on fire. There was one missed shot from both teams in the first three minutes of the game. Olasewere, who looked to atone for his poor outing against Mount St. Mary’s come out of the gate red-hot. At the first media timeout, Olasewere already had 10 points hitting four shot, two of them threes. Not to be outdone, Wagner’s Orlando Parker had six by that point himself.
LIU seized control in the first half thanks to 15-1 run midway through the half to go up by 12 at 29-17. The pivotal point of the first half came when Olasewere was called for his second personal foul as he leaped above at least two Wagner player to get an offensive rebound and for some inexplicable reason was whistled on the play. I don’t like getting on officials. I already think the NEC have some of the worst officiating of any league in the country. Last night, the officials were simply a joke. Plain and simple.
After the Olasewere foul, Wagner grabbed some momentum and took a 13-point lead and cut it to seven by halftime and nearly cut it to four as Latif Rivers nearly hit a half-court shot at the buzzer.
As you would think, Wagner came back strong in the second half. For the second-straight game, LIU couldn’t get the job done defensive in the second-half to protect their halftime lead. Wagner got a major spark from a bit of unlikely source off the bench. Freshman Dwaun Anderson, who coming into the game was shooting three at a 16% clip, knocked down a couple of huge threes that gave Wagner the lead until the controversial final seconds.
With 2:06 left to go, LIU was down ten. Back-to-back threes from Booker Hucks and Olasewere cut the Wagner lead down to four with 1:37 left. Then Brickman banks in a three on his second attempt in the possession and LIU was down just one. Rivers makes two free throws for Wagner to make the lead three and then Brickman hits a three to tie the game with 12.9 seconds remaining. “Our guys made plays down the stretch. They made shots and got stops and executed our press well and made plays to get that tie.” said LIU head coach Jack Perri regarding his team’s 14-4 run in the final two minutes of the game that tied the game at 92.
Here the controversy begins.
Watch the final 21 seconds of the game and play attention to the game clock.
As you can see on the video, Rivers inbounds the ball with 12.9 seconds to Jonathon Williams. Williams gets the ball, turns towards their end, takes a dribble and a step and look at the clock. It is STILL at 12.9 seconds! Finally the clock starts. But then as Williams holds the ball. The clock PAUSES at 12.1 seconds!! The clock restarts as Williams passes the ball to Rivers to run up the court.
Those two pauses by the Wagner clock operator equally to what amounted to be enough time for Ortiz to get game-winner. Ortiz hits the game winner with 0.8 on the clock after getting the Rivers’ miss rebound off the top of the backboard. That Ortiz shot should have never happened. The Rivers’ miss should have ended the half and sent the game to overtime. I went ahead using my iPhone timer to see what was the actual time from Rivers’ inbound pass to Thompson to Ortiz’s getting off game-winning layup. It was anywhere between 12.8 to 13.1 seconds (depending on how many time you want to time it). Those two moments of hesitation was enough time for Ortiz to get his shot off with time to spear.
“In a nutshell, we outscored them.” That was what Wagner’s head coach Bashir Mason said after the wild finish. “Hard fought game by both teams. The game literally came down to the last shot and we was just fortunate Kenny was in good position and came up with the ball and he put it in.” “I was just in the right place at the right time and made the shot.” said Wagner’s Kenneth Ortiz on his game-winning layup.
It was a defensively breakdown that ultimately lead to the Ortiz layup according to Perri. “I think it was Booker Hucks who might have thought we were still in pressure (defense) so he stayed up and that allowed them to gain an advantage in that last scrammble situation. Three guys go to Rivers and that’s why Ortiz is wide-open. Boom, layup.”
“Tough loss.” said Perri after the heartbreaker. “Both teams made a lot of plays. We did a really good job of taking care of the ball in the first half, a poor job in the second half and that was pretty much the reason why we lost.” LIU committed 17 turnovers, twelve of them came in the second half. Wagner had only 11 turnovers for the game. Wagner also got 11 steals and 9 blocks on the Blackbirds.
C.J. Garner finished with a team-high 22 points on 11 shots and also dished out six assists. He was 10 of 11 from the charity stripe. Olasewere finished with 21 including 4 of 4 from three. Jason Brickman had 19 points and 7 assists including making a couple of clutch threes at the end of this game but he had a career-high ten turnovers against last season’s NEC defensive player of the year.
Wagner got 20 points from Jonathon Williams, 19 points from Mario Moody off the bench, 12 from Latif Rivers and 8 points and 9 assists from their hero Kenneth Ortiz.
This game exposed a bit of a late-game weakness for LIU Brooklyn. This is now the second time this season, LIU has been beat by not being able to get the all-important late game rebound and letting the other teams’ point guard beat them on a game-winning shot. LIU has to prevent this from happening in the rest of this season and in the NEC tournament.
Defensively, LIU gave up 1.307 points per possession. The only game worst defensively this season was to Kentucky. LIU scored 1.214 points per possession. Nine out ten times that is more than enough to win. This is now the second time this season, LIU has scored over 90 points and lost.
Even with LIU getting hosed by the game clock operator at Wagner, there is nothing anyone can do about it now. The game is in the books. Now, LIU is in dire straits. The loss dropped the Blackbirds down to a tied for fourth in the standing but now that Wagner won the season series from LIU, you can now add them to the list of teams at the top of the NEC standings who owns the tiebreaker over them. LIU is technically the 5-seed for the moment. “Right now we are fighting to stay in the playoffs and grab a home game.” said Jamal Olasewere. “The sense of urgency is through the roof. Hopefully we can get back, figure out what we did wrong and correct it against Sacred Heart.”
LIU has two home games remaining against Sacred Heart on Thursday and Quinnipiac on Saturday on Senior Day. They need to win both games and hope for some good results from other NEC games just to get possible 3-seed. They can’t afford to lose anymore games if they want to play at least one home game in the NEC tournament. Now, it REALLY is win-out if history is to be made.