For college basketball fans, nothing much get the juices flowing more then these two words, ‘conference basketball’. As the schedule turned to conference play, the lessons learned for this young LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball team continues. The teacher on Saturday was Bryant’s Dyami Starks and it was a hard lesson learned as Starks erupted in the second half to bring the Bulldogs back from ten points down in the second half to get win number one of NEC play, defeating LIU 67-63 at the Steinberg Wellness Center on Saturday afternoon.
Starks, who was held to a rather quiet six points in the first half, brought out the deft shooting magic that will likely make him an All-NEC first teamer at the end of the season. He used the whole repertoire in the second half with step-back jumpers, multiple three-pointers with defenders literally draped all over him, finding wide open teammates for layups as he drew the defense. It was all working and LIU could do very little to stop it.
“(Starks) hit some tough pull-ups. Our focus to help some wasn’t good enough.” said LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri. “He got to the rim a few times. Again, some of the tough pull-up jumpers, you deal with those as long as there is a hard hand in his face. He’s their focus. He is the reason why they go. You have to have total focus on him. I thought at times we were very good and at times we weren’t.”
After a stellar first half defensively in which LIU held Bryant to 28 percent shooting from the floor including 1 for 11 from behind the three-point line. Bryant made the halftime adjustment and let the offense flow through Starks and he went to work and made the Blackbirds pay.
“Very frustrating. We didn’t play well enough to win certainly in the second half. We made too many mistakes defensively.” said an unhappy Perri after the game. “I want to take a look at the film to see what the (defensive) breakdowns were but there were too many to the rim for those guys. A team that struggles scoring like them to have them score 45 points in the second half. I was disappointed we couldn’t sustain what we started.”
Gerell Martin, who was questionable to play as of early Friday and was just cleared to play later in the day after suffering a nasty head injury against Hofstra in last Sunday’s loss, went toe-to-toe with Starks on the scoresheet and had his best game of the season with 27 points on 10 of 16 from the floor including hitting four threes.
The problem was LIU’s offense, other than Martin, couldn’t get much going. LIU shot just 31% in the second half and shot 30% in the game.
LIU in fact could have taken control of this game in the first half when they had between a six and eight point lead and on several occasions missed on high percentage shots around the basket and allowed Bryant to hang around and be down just by five at the half.
“That was frustrating.” said Perri. “When (Zanna) and Joel got two fouls, I think the last four minutes, I was hoping we would figure out a way to maintain an eight to ten-point lead. We made some mistakes and didn’t score and we ended up with just a five-point lead where I think we could have expanded that. When you have so many misses. I thought we would get more in transition which we ended up not getting as much as we should have. We only had 27 points (in the half), I was disappointed with that.”
Once Bryant got a hold of the lead in the second half, LIU keep fighting back and got back to within four with 1:41 remaining. Then the man who always talks to his team about keeping their poise, lost his.
Perri lost his cool and got a ill-timed technical foul after Nura Zanna got called for a loose ball foul right after what appeared to be a foul against Zanna as he was battling on the offensive glass and it went uncalled. Starks hit one of two from the free throw line and then Starks found Dan Garvin for a layup on the subsequent possession and turned it to a critical three-point play to make the lead seven and help keep LIU at arm’s length to the finish.
“I’m a dope for getting a ‘T’.” said Perri. “I preach poise and I did not do that myself. So I was disappointed in myself.”
For Bryant, after Starks’ 25 points, Joe O’Shea finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds, and Shane McLaughlin scored ten with four assists to give the 1-0 start to the NEC campaign.
Two Blackbirds who really struggled were Landon Atterberry and Elvar Friðriksson. Atterberry had a terrible shooting game with his 1 for 13 field goal shooting and finished with just five points. Friðriksson was 1 for 9 shooting for just two points and had only three assists with three turnovers. This is the second straight game both of these guys struggled.
Martin Hermannsson finished with 14 points on eleven shots along with seven rebounds. He got his points early and then late in the game and didn’t do much at all in between. Nura Zanna was just 1 for 5 for six points. He did bring down nine rebounds, five of those offensive.
LIU bench was fairly quiet with the possible exception of Joel Hernandez who scored six. Four players combined for just nine points on 4 of 15 field goal shooting.
The LIU offense scored 0.91 points/possession in 69 possession game while allowing 0.97 points per possession to Bryant. “Offense has been an issue for our team and it is not going away.” said Perri.
After the first game of NEC play, LIU is in the bottom half of the standings along with Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut, Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner who all also lost on Saturday. Bryant joins St. Francis Brooklyn, Robert Morris, Fairleigh Dickinson and Saint Francis U. to start 1-0.
It is also LIU’s second loss in a row after losing to Hofstra to break their four-game win streak.
In regards to sophomore Glenn Feidanga who missed his fourth straight game with his ankle injury, Perri didn’t have an answer to when he will return to the lineup.
The Blackbirds will have to put this loss on the back burner rather quickly. They’ll get right back at it on Monday as 1-0 FDU comes into the Steinberg Wellness Center and will look to get off the fast start all the 1-0 teams will be looking for.