Third time is the charm.
Apparently, if you’re the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. After going 0-2 to Wagner in the regular season, the Blackbirds used a great defensive effort plus hot shooting to build a 20-point halftime lead and hold off a comeback attempt by the Seahawks in the second half to win 94-82 at the Spiro Sports Center in Staten Island on Saturday afternoon. The win puts LIU back into the NEC Tournament final for the third straight season and keep their hopes alive of being the first team in NEC history to win three straight NEC Tournament championships.
LIU used a 20-1 run midway through the first half to take the game from a two-point lead to a 21 point lead. The Blackbirds would carry a 20-point lead in the locker room at the half.
Wagner tried to get back into the game going full court press and it was effecting the Blackbirds as they committed 17 of their 27 turnovers in the second. Luckily for LIU, they were able to break the press enough times to get some easy scores and keep Wagner at a distance through the entire second half. Wagner never got closer than 11 points in the second half and LIU was able to hang on to win and give themselves an opportunity to do something historic Tuesday night.
“Woof. A little sigh really quick.” said LIU head coach Jack Perri to begin the postgame press conference. “We talk about staying in the moment first and foremost. Each of these games and obviously Wagner has gotten the best of us the last two times we played them. We said we don’t get to Tuesday without winning this one and our guys had a great sense of urgency to start the game.”
Once again C.J. Garner help get things going for LIU in the first half with 11 points. Then Jason Brickman and Booker Hucks going from three. All of a sudden the LIU lead was 21 points. All while Jamal Olasewere, the NEC Player of the Year shot all of two shots. LIU had great scoring balance and outstanding play off the bench. The group of Gerrell Martin, Troy Joseph, Booker Hucks and E.J. Reed score 20 first half points. Joseph was fouled as he was going for a huge tomahawk slam and then on the next LIU possession, Martin rose and slammed one down hard. Things had gotten away from Wagner.
“Tough hard fought game.” said Wagner’s head coach Bashir Mason. “(We) got off to a slow start offensively. LIU was on fire offensively….I thought my guys, we fought, we battled for entire forty minutes. Never showed any quit. But LIU, they were just better tonight.”
LIU held Wagner for the first time this season to under a point per possession on offense. Wagner was only about to score 0.898 ppp. They had a ridiculous 91 possessions in this game, thanks to 16 offensive rebounds and 27 LIU turnovers. But Wagner was ice cold from the field, especially from three, where they were just 4 of 24 for the game. LIU was able to hold Wagner to 40% shooting for the game. “We talked about contesting shots better.” said Perri. “The last two time we played them, they shot a ridiculous percentage against us. I think they were at 58%. We talked about contesting shots and rebounding and we did a much better job of that in the first half. Obviously, getting that huge lead was enormous for us. And then we held on. We didn’t handle their pressure very well but obviously we still made plays. Enough plays to keep them at bay.”
For LIU Brooklyn, C.J. Garner once again showed why he probably deserved to be higher than the All-NEC third team he was named unto earlier this week. He finished with 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting and 6 of 8 from the free throw line. Garner right now is on a mission to not see his college career end sooner than need be. “I think I’m just playing with a sense of urgency.” said Garner. “As a senior, I just want to go out on top. Just like the rest of us. Coach gives me a lot of confidence. Tells me to play my game. It allows me to do that so I have a lot of freedom. I just play.”
Jamal Olasewere only scored 12 points in this game and took just four shots (3-4 FG) in the game. He finished with his eleventh double-double as he collected 12 rebounds to go along with his 12 points. “Early, the teams is going.” said Olasewere. “The team was running. C.J. was leading the pack. Booker came in and bang down threes. I didn’t feel like I needed to score today. I didn’t feel like I needed to be too aggressive. I had a lot of turnovers. C.J. was getting to the basket at will. Brickman was doing what he does, dropping those passes. The support we had from Troy Jo(seph), Gerrell Martin, Booker Hucks, it was incredible.”
It was incredible as LIU bench out scored Wagner’s bench 43 to 9. The 43 bench points represents the best scoring output they put up this season surpassing the 42 they had against FDU at home this season.
Also with the 12 points Olasewere scored, he is now the all-time LIU scoring leader surpassing Joe Griffin’s 1830 points. Jason Brickman also finished with a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists.
For Wagner, Jonathon Williams finished his Wagner career with 23 points. Marcus Burton scored 18. Latif Rivers had an off-night. He fouled out with 13 and shot 3 of 16 from the field. Kenneth Ortiz missed a triple-double. He finished with 11 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds.
So LIU continues on in their historic chase for three straight NEC championships and three straight visits to the NCAA Tournament. Who is standing in their way? Well, it is not Robert Morris. They were upset in the other NEC semifinal by the blazing hot Mount St. Mary’s who won 69-60. The Mount has now won nine straight games and ten of eleven to reach the NEC final on Tuesday. They now look to make NEC history themselves, as they could become the first ever NEC team to win three straight road games to win the NEC championship. So either way, history will be made.
The NEC championship game will be back at the Wellness Center for the third straight year. This is just the second time in NEC history, a team has played three straight championship games on their home floor. The WRAC will once again be the center of college basketball world for two hours Tuesday night. History will be made, who will do it is now the question?