Two straight wins may not be much but for head coach Jack Perri and his LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, it’s a definite start. After starting the season on a six-game losing streak, LIU notched their second-straight win in beating NJIT 65-49 at the Steinberg Wellness Center on Sunday afternoon.
LIU Brooklyn took advantage of getting to play NJIT at the end of an exhausting week for them which started with them beating Michigan last Saturday and all the deserved attention and publicity they received from it. They played five games in the last twelve days and were coming off a game played less than 48 hours before and they looked visible exhausted midway through the second half.
Perri knew NJIT wouldn’t be as fresh having played a game on Friday and tried to wear NJIT by pushing the pace and using their size upfront to wear down the Highlanders. Eventually, it succeeded after NJIT were ahead 37-35 with 16:40 remaining in the game, LIU would go on a 25-6 run over the next ten minutes which help break the game open.
Gerrell Martin led LIU with 15 points and he is starting to see signs that this young LIU team is starting to figure things out.
“I think the team is coming together really well. They’re getting a lot of confidence, that’s one thing I’m starting to see.” said Martin. “I’m starting to see growth in a lot of the freshmen, not just the freshman but also Joel (Hernandez) and Iverson (Fleming) and the rest of the guys. I think they are really helping a lot, just to keep that spark. I’m seeing a lot of good chemistry now. In the first five or six games, they were trying to figure it out. We’re starting to figure it out. We’re starting to run more, we’re starting to score more so hopefully going into January, we can be a force to be reckoned with.”
The bruising young tag team of Nura Zanna and Glenn Feidanga combined to wear down the small NJIT front line. Zanna finished with 11 points and five rebounds in 28 minutes while Feidanga finished with five rebounds off the bench in 12 minutes.
“Once we calmed down a little bit, I started talking about, let’s go into Nura.” said Perri. “Let’s play through him first, when we do that things end up going pretty well and then obviously we had some ball screen action later and I think our guys settled down a little bit and started making some good decisions.
“Now that Glenn is back. That was a big part (of our struggles) in the beginning. Now that we have Glenn to stabilize (the front court) and use both him and Nura, I think that certainly has helped us too.”
Freshman Martin Hermannsson finished with 12 points and it was his third double-digit scoring performance in his last four games. His scoring average is slowly creeping towards double-digits and his shooting percentages are steadily improving as well after a rather slow start in his first four games as a Blackbird.
“I was pretty frustrated with my shot to begin the year. I haven’t been shooting great.” said Hermannsson. “I shot great last year (in Iceland) but I haven’t been shooting great this year. I’m just trying to let the game come to me and find open guys instead, don’t force it. I think my shot is coming back. I can feel it.”
Landon Atterberry continues his run of good play of late with seven points and six rebounds in just 17 minutes due to foul trouble in particular in the first half where he got three fouls in a very tightly called game. Although the final numbers may not show it, he played a steady, composed game and did what his team needed him to do.
Joel Hernandez and Iverson Fleming once again provided a good lift off the bench for Jack Perri. They combined for ten points and five rebounds. Perri continues to use Hernandez as a small “four” when he goes to his smaller four-guard lineup. Perri has gotten very comfortable with play him in that position and doesn’t see him going away from it even with some of his taller front court guys now back and available.
NJIT, who with the loss fell to 4-6 on the season, got 15 points from Ky Howard and just eight points from their leading scorer Damon Lynn who had a terrible shooting game as LIU held him to 3 for 18 shooting.
The Blackbirds held NJIT to just 0.71 points per possession, a season-best for LIU defensively. NJIT shot just 31% from the field and made only 4 of 19 three-pointers. Defensively, the Blackbirds played their best game of the non-conference season after playing their best offensive game of the season against Maine on Tuesday.
“I felt like we really locked in defensively in our gameplan to try and frustrate (Damon) Lynn.” said Perri. “I thought we did a really good job defensively and that’s why we ended up winning the game.”
It’s good to see this young LIU Brooklyn team starting to string some wins together albeit just two. It does beat the alternative which was seeing them having difficulty finishing games and getting beat to admittedly bigger opposition.
The final three non-conference games does present a challenge for LIU if they are to enter NEC play with some winning momentum. Florida International, the second game against New Hampshire who already beaten LIU this season and Hofstra closes out their non-conference slate. These two straight wins hopefully has given LIU the confidence and the ability to finish games and answer some questions for Jack Perri regarding his team.
“Long way to go but I think defensively we’ve been getting better. I think we are starting to get a resemblance of a rotation.” said Perri.
If LIU can continue playing well into the new year and into that all-important busy first week of the NEC season, things can get rather interesting rather quickly. The lessons learned from their 0-6 start might be starting to pay off. The next three games will tell the tale.