Tuesday night was the first of three consecutive “put up or shut up” games for the LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball team and they were able to put their first “put up” on the board with a 80-75 win over the now 1-13 Sacred Heart Pioneers at the vastly empty and quiet William H. Pitt Center.
This was a make-up game from the postponed February 13th game thanks to the major snow storm that hit the tri-state area that day. I guess either the Sacred Heart faithful forgot or quite frankly just didn’t care to take in a game that involved two teams with four combined NEC wins coming in. The announced attendance was 173, which I’m going to go out on a limb and say that is probably the lowest-attended men’s basketball game in the NEC this season.
The quietness of the small crowd led to a somewhat weird atmosphere for a game LIU Brooklyn had to have against the last-place Pioneers. They were able to ignore the library-like setting and focus in on the task on hand.
Junior guard Gerrell Martin who was coming off a rough game on Saturday against Saint Francis (PA) with just four points, put on a shooting clinic and finished with a career-high 26 points on 10 of 14 field goal attempts. Martin buried 5 of 7 three-pointers and his played with great rhythm all game long. He also did a fantastic job defensively shutting down Sacred Heart’s main three-point threat Steve Glowiak and holding him to just eight points in the game and 3 of 8 shooting.
“Obviously, Gerrell was huge.” LIU head coach Jack Perri said after the win. “He did an unbelievable job on (Glowiak). He hit a few late against our zone, (Martin) took him away completely. Gerrell did a great job on both ends.” LIU point guard Jason Brickman also appreciated the much-needed big-time performance by Martin. “He was great today on both ends.” said Brickman. “Guarding Glowiak, not giving him any looks. He was really great. Offensively, he was in rhythm, he got hot. He was really focused too. He wants to get into the (NEC) tournament, all these guys want to win these last three games. He had a great mindset coming in and he was great on offense knocking down shots for us.”
Along with Martin’s big night, Jason Brickman, whose recent play of late has seem to be taken up even another notch, once again brought the determination and focus of a senior who desperately wants to finish his career off strong. Brickman finished with his tenth double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 assists. The twelve assists helped pass ETSU’s Keith Jennings who has 983 assists to go into fourth place on the NCAA all-time career assist list. Brickman now has 987 assists with two games regular season games remaining. He now needs 13 more assists to become just the fourth player in NCAA history to reach 1,000 career assists.
“Jason was great with his three-point shooting and his distributing.” Perri said. “He is the one guy, again we are talking playoffs, even in that Saint Francis game, I’m like we got to treat this like a playoff game and he did and the other guys in reality don’t have a lot of playoff experience for one and he was the one that was really, really locked in. He is trying to do everything he can whether it is taking shots or making plays, he has been tremendous.”
“I think the Robert Morris game really took a lot out of us. A lot of our energy and effort and we really come out flat versus Saint Francis PA.” said Brickman on his team psyche after the difficult weekend in Western Pennsylvania before coming into this game. “We needed a little bit of rest and come out here and come out strong and get a win, I think it really helps us and our confidence. We can use that going into our next game. Coming down to the last few games, I’m really focused in. I really want to keep playing. I don’t want it to be my last game on Saturday so I want to try and end on a great note here at LIU and try to make the playoffs here and make a little run if we can so my mindset is just to be focused and be aggressive and try to do whatever I can to help the team.”
The Blackbirds also got a very positive contribution from E.J. Reed who played well and most importantly took care of his fouls and went the entire first half without a foul while collecting 7 points, 9 rebounds and swatting a career-high five shots on his way to his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Reed was able to play a season-high tying 36 minutes.
“I was happy with E.J. Reed’s focus.” Perri said. “He was much more focused on the defensive end. He was locked in a little bit better, not fouling. He had some block shots and some big time defensive rebounds in the first half.”
Also, it has to be mentioned of the good play LIU has been getting of late from freshman Joel Hernandez who scored eight points in this game and has impressed the coaching staff with his game. Troy Joseph finished with nine points and Landon Atterberry dropped in seven.
Sacred Heart got a team-high 15 points from Evan Kelley off the bench. Phil Gaetano had 11 points and nine assists. Mostafa Abdel-Latif had 11 points and nine rebounds. De’von Barnett had ten points. LIU held Sacred Heart 0.931 points per possession (81 possessions). It was the first time in nine games in which LIU held an opponent to under a point per possession.
With the win, it now sets up the huge game on Thursday night between Central Connecticut State and LIU Brooklyn at the Steinberg Wellness Center. At 4-9, LIU is now one game back of CCSU with LIU holding the tiebreaker between the two teams.
So what is at stake? With a LIU win Thursday, LIU and CCSU will be tied 5-9 and thus with LIU winning the season series between the two teams, they will have the tiebreaker if they finish with the same record at the conclusion of Saturday’s games. If LIU loses Thursday, CCSU clinches the final NEC tournament spot and LIU’s season will come to an end on Saturday. So this becomes a de facto playoff game for LIU. Win and hope is still alive. Lose and the season is basically over.
“We talked about playoffs now, this is what it is.” said Perri. “Each game is a playoff game. Obviously, we won our first playoff game. Now we going home to play Central Connecticut and that is going to be the next one.”
Thursday should be a wild affair and hopefully the crowd support is there for the Blackbirds and they get a packed house for the game. Ready or not, playoff time is here. LIU gets to play what is essentially a pair of playoff games at home. It will be the final times LIU plays at home this season so now its the time to turn out and get fired up. Time for vintage WRAC-mania to return just in time for these two crucial games. Get there Thursday night and get fired up and be ready to go Blackbird Nation! It should be fun.