For a team and a program that has lost just twice over the last 43 games at the Steinberg Wellness Center, you almost take for granted that whenever you go to see a game there, you expect to see LIU come out of it with a win. On Thursday night, the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights came into Downtown Brooklyn and looking to make a statement against the three-time defending NEC champs, they did exactly that in a 89-67 beat down of LIU Brooklyn.
Things just seemed to snowball for Jack Perri’s team. LIU did get off to a good start through the first five minutes with a 6-0 and then 14-9 lead. But unfortunately for the Blackbirds, that is as good as it got. An 8-0 run gave FDU their first lead before LIU tied it at 21. From that point on, it was all FDU. They went on another 9-0 run to take the lead for good and started pulling away. You knew it was FDU’s night when a Mustafaa Jones three-pointer right before the half took a friendly bounce off the rim and dropped right through the hoop for gave them a 42-31 halftime lead.
The dagger came right off the start of the second half as FDU nailed back-to-back-to-back threes to begin the half to take the lead from 11 to 20 in 1:18. That was all she wrote for LIU. The Blackbirds would never get any closer than 14 the rest of the game and fell behind by as much as 27.
FDU dropped 7 of 11 three-pointers in the second half to deliver the knockout punch to the reeling LIU Blackbirds who now fall to 0-3 in the NEC for the second consecutive season. FDU forced LIU into 14 turnovers and turned those into 20 points from themselves. FDU burned the LIU zone for 13 threes in the game. “They out-played us.” said Perri after the loss. “We are not in a good place right now.”
Sidney Sanders Jr. played the role of facilitator in this game and did it to perfection. He scored just 4 points, a season-low, but dished out a season-high 13 assists with no turnovers. The beneficiaries of those assists was Matt MacDonald and Mustafaa Jones. MacDonald finished with 19 points on 6 of 10 shooting and 5 of 7 from deep. Jones had 13 including 3 for 6 from downtown. Senior Mathias Seilund was outstanding in this game as he scored from both inside and outside with a career-high 20 points on 9 of 11 shooting, missing just two three-point attempts. FDU now goes to 2-1 in the NEC. Not bad for a team everyone picked to unanimously finish in last place in the NEC. FDU head coach Greg Herenda has definitely put himself as a NEC Coach of the Year candidate. The FDU win snapped an 11-game losing streak in the series to LIU Brooklyn.
A couple of LIU players tried to give it a go but was too banged up to play. Gilbert Parga played only three minutes as his achilles once again became an issue. Gerrell Martin started after missing the Wagner game on Saturday with a sprained ankle but he was far from effective as he went 0 for 4 and scored just two points in 20 minutes before he was taken out for good midway through the second half. E.J. Reed was cleared to play late Wednesday night from the concussion he sustained Saturday against Wagner and he had a so-so game with 12 points on 5 of 10 shooting in 24 minutes. He did get two fouls in under a minute span about midway through the first half and that is when FDU really began making their run.
For probably the first time in his LIU career, Jason Brickman started to show a tiny bit of frustration from the usually very calm and collected self as his team fell behind by twenty-plus points in the second half. Brickman who had six first-half assists, finished with just eight assists with his eight points. He played just 31 minutes as Perri took him out of the last eight minutes of the game with LIU down by 27 at that point. “I’ve sense some frustrating with him.” said Perri. “He got to just finish this out strong, as strong as possible and keep focused.”
With the second-half blowout, some of the freshman got considerable playing time during garbage time. Joel Hernandez got his first opportunity at extended minutes and show some nice flashes with his driving and his three-point shot. He finished with 9 points on 4 of 5 shooting in 13 minutes. Iverson Fleming played 21 minutes and scored 13 points. Walk-ons Darien Best and Kaleb Marquis both made appearances in the final minute. For Marquis, it was his first time getting on the LIU scoresheet.
LIU is no stranger to adversity as last season showed but things have hit critical mass for the Blackbirds and Coach Perri knows it. “What can happen now is one of two things. We can show some character and come back and grind it or we can put our heads down and fall apart. We are going to find out what this group is made of.”
Yet, this isn’t a mostly veteran team that had championship experience on their side that last season’s team was. This is a team with a lot of young players still learning the college game, guys who are first-time leaders who had still finding their way in their new roles, and guys who are just plain banged up. “It is a lot different than last year’s group. You had a lot more seniors last year. This year, we are a lot younger, little bit more immature but we’ll see.” said Perri.
They have a game on Saturday against another team going through their own issues in Central Connecticut State. Right now, LIU just need a win to regain their confidence and get back some stability and prove to themselves that they are not as bad as they showed of late. “All it takes is one win. You get one win and get some confidence and then anything can happen. We are not going to win if we don’t play better.” said Perri.
Saturday afternoon is going to be huge for LIU. It is sink or swim game that will determine what they will do with the remainder of their season. We will all learn what kind of team they are on Saturday.