Florida International 58 LIU Brooklyn 69

The Blackbirds made it three wins in a row after defeating Florida International 69-58 at the Barclays Center Thursday night. (Photo: Bob Dea)

The Blackbirds made it three wins in a row after defeating Florida International 69-58 at the Barclays Center Thursday night. (Photo: Bob Dea)

The lights were bright at the Barclays Center Thursday night as LIU Brooklyn withstood a furious mid-game charge by the visiting Florida International Panthers but freshman point guard Elvar Friðriksson and his 14 second-half points helped the Blackbirds get their third straight win by a final score of 69-58.

The 20-year old freshman point guard from Iceland carried the Blackbirds offensively in the second half.

After a 29-10 FIU run that erased a fifteen-point LIU lead and give FIU their largest lead of the game at 43-39 with 12:36 to play, Martin Hermannsson would go one of two from the free throw line and then Friðriksson took over.

Elvar Friðriksson #10) took over offensive for LIU in the second half and finished with a team-high 17 points. Photo: Bob Dea)

Elvar Friðriksson #10) took over offensive for LIU in the second half and finished with a team-high 17 points. Photo: Bob Dea)

He would hit back-to-back layups, one of which was an outstanding driving reverse layup, to give LIU back the lead. Then he hit back-to-back three-pointers. He scored ten straight LIU points by himself in a matter of just over two minutes to give the Blackbirds back the momentum they had lost and carried it to a big victory against a good FIU team.

“(Friðriksson) is confident and he should be confident. He is a really talented, really good basketball player.” said LIU head coach Jack Perri of his point guard. “That was very important, hitting those two back-to-back threes. Obviously, he was feeling it. That was awesome.”

“The ten points were after great defense.'” said Elvar Friðriksson, who is also the reigning NEC rookie of the week. “We had two steals and it was just layups in transition. It was also wide open looks, I wasn’t making them to begin with. But, in the end, they fell so I was happy with that.”

Friðriksson has been coming into his own as the season has gone on. This was his fourth game in the last five where he has scored in double figures and his increased confidence has really been noticeable with each passing game.

Four Blackbirds finished in double figures lead by Friðriksson’s 17 points. Gerrell Martin finished with 15 points. Martin Hermannsson finished with ten points in what was a balanced scoring game for LIU. Joel Hernandez got his second career double-double off the bench with 11 points and a career-high ten rebounds.

Hernandez’s play this season has been most impressive considering most if not all of his minutes are with him playing at the “four” position for Jack Perri.

Sophomore Joel Hernandez recorded his first career double-double 11 points and 10 rebounds. Photo: Bob Dea)

Sophomore Joel Hernandez recorded his first career double-double 11 points and 10 rebounds. (Photo: Bob Dea)

“He weighs 210, he’s 6’3” and he is really, really athletic. He is explosive athletic. So he is a little bit of a mismatch.” Perri said of Hernandez. “In our league, we can get away with that a lot more than if you play up but today, it was fine.”

This was the first game LIU dominated the free throw shooting game, something that they had grown accustomed to doing during their NEC championship run. They outshot FIU from the charity stripe 24 to 9 and the plus-12 free throws made was the difference in the game.

“They get fouled a lot. Obviously, we’ve been inconsistent with our free throw defense this year.” said Perri. “We’ve had first halves when we wouldn’t give up a free throw and then the second halves, 32 free throws, I think it was against Lehigh. So that being a main focus for them to have nine free throw attempts for that team, I thought that was great for our guys, great step in the right direction.”

LIU’s improved defense is also coming along towards the end of non-conference play. For the second straight game, they held their opponent to under 60 points scored.

They also held FIU’s top two scorers, Dennis Mavin and Adrian Diaz, who combined coming into the game were averaging nearly 30 points per game to just a combined 15 points in the game.

Senior Gerrell Martin had a solid game with 15 points vs FIU. Photo: Bob Dea)

Senior Gerrell Martin had a solid game with 15 points vs FIU. (Photo: Bob Dea)

“He talked about over-helping. They only average four made threes a game.” said Perri. “We talked about over-helping to the post and being really physical with (Diaz). Then we talked about over-helping with Mavin because he is such a good driver, he is great at attacking. Along with that he is great in transition, so we limited their steals and make sure we sprint back to the paint and really crowd him. So I though we did a good job with the focus on both of those guys.”

Mavin lead FIU with 12, FDU transfer Marco Porcher Jimenez and Tashawn Desir both finished with 11 for the now 6-5 Panthers.

Freshman Nura Zanna briefly left the game after suffering a cut around his nose on a foul going to the basket. He would later return to the game.

Perri announced after the game that sophomore forward Glenn Feidanga, who did not play, felt discomfort in his foot once again. Feidanga has missed LIU’s first four games with the same foot injury but had played in the last four games, playing 12 to 19 minutes in each of his last three games. His status for LIU’s next game at New Hampshire on Tuesday is unknown.

This was LIU’s best win on this current three-game win streak. FIU, who came in ranked 190 on Thursday in the KenPom rankings, is the first KenPom top-200 team LIU has beaten this season.

LIU will look to continue the win streak on Monday as they head to New Hampshire in to complete their in-season home-and-home series. UNH defeated LIU Brooklyn back on December 3rd at the Steinberg Wellness Center 72-56.

For Jack Perri and his team, they hope second-time is the charm against the Wildcats.

“We get to watch ourselves play against them, so we can see what works and what didn’t work in the first meeting.” said Perri. “Hopefully, we have a little bit more confidence at this point and time. We have to do a better job of a lot of things and I think our guys will get to work on that. Obviously, us losing at home and now having to go on the road that makes it a little bit more difficult right before Christmas but we’ll be excited for the challenge.”

For now, it looks like LIU has started to press the right buttons in order to turn around what was a tough start to their season and finish the month out strong as the team closes out non-conference play and heads into what could be a rather unpredictable conference season.

LIU would love to ride this current momentum into January but two tough games remain before the start of conference season. UNH will be a tough challenge for LIU to keep this winning streak going. At least for now, the 0-6 start is starting to fall deeper behind in the rear-view mirror.

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