It definitely wasn’t one for the archives but at this stage of the season, a win is a win and the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds will take it as they narrowly escaped what would have been a backbreaking loss and came out of tonight’s game with Sacred Heart with a 70-68 win at the Wellness Center on Thursday night. The win give LIU an 11-5 NEC record and now ties them with Bryant who lost at home to Robert Morris thus giving RMU the 1 seed and home court advantage through the NEC Tournament, Wagner who also won although they were down at the half against FDU, and Quinnipiac who beat St. Francis Brooklyn on the road. LIU, as it stands, is currently the 5 seed. The game against Quinnipiac on Saturday afternoon on Senior Day now becomes a game in which the winner gets a first round home game in the NEC Tournament.
“Oh man. Well, we’ll take it.” said LIU head coach Jack Perri after this hard-fought victory. LIU did just enough on both ends to pull this game at home. LIU played sort of a sluggish first half in particular the first ten minutes. Maybe it a bit of a case of a hangover from the Wagner game Sunday night but for whatever reason, LIU had a hard time getting going in this one.
The Blackbirds nearly let the heroics of Shane Gibson, a player who us Blackbirds fans might have seen for the final time ever, nearly pull a much-needed win for them. Gibson hit a straight-away three from the top of key while being tightly guarded by LIU’s C.J. Garner to give Sacred Heart a 67-66 lead with 22 seconds remaining. LIU put the ball in the hand of their main man, Jamal Olasewere. The senior who struggled through most of this game, hit a big layup to give LIU back the lead by one. “Shane (Gibson) hit one so I got to hit one.” said Olasewere with a grin after the game.
Shane Gibson, with the season likely in his hands, decided to pass the ball to his teammate Louis Montes who he saw in the right hand corner but the pass sailed and it went out of bounds with 5.5 seconds remaining. Garner would later hit two free throws and then Perri decided to have his guys foul Sacred Heart up by three, a much-discussed defensive strategy in college basketball this season. “Under five (seconds) is when.” said Perri about this strategy. “I wanted (Sacred Heart) to take a dribble. I said wait, let them take a dribble and (the clock) will probably get to like two (seconds). I didn’t think they were going to go full-length of the court so I figured we have time to do that.” Gaetano hit the first and missed the second intentionally. The rebound was loose and fell in SHU’s Tevin Falzon’s hands but he couldn’t get it to go and LIU survived to make Saturday another huge game. “The rebound makes me think twice.” joked Perri afterwards.
Although Olasewere’s late-game heroics saved the Blackbirds on this night, he struggled from the field throughout the game going 5 of 18 from the field.
Olasewere credited the Sacred Heart defense for his struggles. “Every time I touched the ball, I felt like they loaded up. They wouldn’t give me a lane to the basket, that is kind of my game. It was pretty good defensive plan.” To Olasewere credit, he still manage to grab a game-high 13 rebounds and even had four assists which he also joked, “I never have four assists.”
A player who stepped up for LIU Brooklyn was E.J. Reed. The freshman forward came up huge with 18 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes. With LIU down four with under two minutes to play, Reed hit a clutch three to get LIU within one which led to Olasewere heroics. Reed is learning as much as he can from his senior teammate Olasewere as this season winds down. “Lately, I have been trying to play my game behind my big brother (Olasewere).” said Reed after his performance. “I look up to him. I see when he is fouling out somebody is got to pick it up. I try to play that role of picking the team up.”
C.J. Garner was given the tough assignment to guard Shane Gibson and he did as well as he could defensively. Gibson is just an amazing shooter. One of the best I’ve seen in all my years of watching NEC basketball. Garner was face-guarding Gibson and he was still knocking down threes. Garner had a strong game on the offensive end with 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting.
In the battle of the two of the best assist men in the nation going head-to-head, it was Jason Brickman who barely edged out Sacred Heart’s Phil Gaetano. Brickman finished with 12 assists to just a single turnover. Gaetano had 11 assists and three turnovers.
LIU got a good game out of their bench. The LIU bench outscored Sacred Heart’s depleted bench 29-16. Along with Reed, Troy Joseph had another good game (9 points, 5 rebounds) and Booker Hucks came up with some big defensive plays including a block and a couple of charges taken.
LIU shot 42% from the field and 36% from three. Free throw shooting was a problem once again in this game as LIU shot 11 0f 2o from the charity stripe, E.J. Reed being the biggest culprit missing four of six. LIU scored 1.05 points per possession (67 possessions) and gave up 1.01 ppp to Sacred Heart (68 possessions).
Sacred Heart got 25 points from likely All-NEC first teamer Shane Gibson on 14 shots. Steve Glowiak and Louis Montes had 13 points each for the Pioneers as they now go to St. Francis Brooklyn on Saturday to play in what is now essentially an NEC tournament play-in game with the Terriers. Winner gets in, loser is done.
For LIU, the focus now shifts to Saturday and the Quinnipiac Bobcats. Winner is guaranteed a first round home game, loser has to start on the road. There is a possiblilty these two teams may face each other in back-to-back games as they may be each other’s opponent for the first round of the NEC Tournament. We’ll see how it’ll all shake out on Saturday night.