A win. That was all head coach Jack Perri and his LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds were worried about getting as they played Central Connecticut State for the second time this season as LIU returned home to the Steinberg Wellness Center for the first time in three weeks. A win was what they got as LIU for the first time this conference season, won back-to-back games in defeating CCSU on Thursday night 67-55 in front of 1,431 fans, the biggest crowd at the Steinberg Wellness Center so far this season.
The game didn’t get off to a wonderful start as both teams played hot potato with the basketball. LIU finally got a handle on the basketball and took control of the game with a 18-0 run in the latter portion of the first half to go from down 18-17 to being up 32-18. That spurt was led by freshman point guard Elvar Friðriksson who scored 11 of those 18 points in that run and finally broke a personal streak of five straight single digit scoring games.
“It was a big game for me to build up my confidence.” said Friðriksson. “I haven’t been playing with a lot of confidence so I was trying not to force things. I was trying to take open looks and control the game.”
CCSU would try to make a game of it early in the second half and cut LIU’s ten point halftime lead down to six within the first two minutes but LIU stayed poised and responded with a 14-4 run to push the lead up to 16. The Blue Devils wouldn’t get any closer than ten the rest of the way.
“This one was a pretty big game for us going in.” said Perri after the win. “I didn’t know how our guys would respond. We hadn’t been in a situation to have the ability to sweep a team. With such a young group, I think the last few days were a little inconsistent. I didn’t know what to expect but our guys did a really good job defending. A big thing also was how unselfish our guys were.”
With the 55 points allowed, that was the second-least points allowed to an opponent this season (NJIT – 49 pts) and also the second-least points per possession allowed with 0.83 (NJIT – 0.71). LIU forced CCSU into 19 turnovers, 15 of those coming in the first half. LIU converted those 19 turnovers into 18 points.
The Blackbirds were able to hold CCSU’s Brandon Peel and Matt Mobley in check as they combined for eight points although Peel did grab seven boards. The only Blue Devils who showed much life were Faronte Drakeford who finished with a double-double 20 points and 11 rebounds and Khalen Cumberlander who scored 11 but only three of those came after halftime.
Senior Gerrell Martin continued his stellar play during NEC games this season as he led LIU with 17 points and hit five threes in the game. Martin believe that things might be starting to gel from this team as they head into the second half of conference play.
“A lot of chemistry is going on, not just with the starting five but whenever we sub in, we’re on the same page.” said Martin. “I just think that comes from a lot of people playing in practice with different lineups. There is a lot of confidence especially with the freshmen and it is helping us a lot to get wins and play defense. It showed today.”
For Friðriksson, this game was a big confidence booster considering the rough time he has had this month. He hopes this is a start of a turnaround for him back to the way he was producing to start off the season.
“I had been hesitating too much.” said Friðriksson. “I just lost my rhythm and I’m trying to find it back. But the other guys have been stepping up so I’m just trying to step up too so we can be a better team for February.”
Perri has started to go deeper into his bench of late and have been spreading out the minutes more. The beneficiaries have been the Woods twins, Trevin and Trevon, who have seen their minutes increase as NEC play has gone along. Also, Perri is happy to have Glenn Feidanga back from his ankle issues and feels he finally has the depth he is comfortable utilizing.
“I am comfortable (with our depth).” said Perri. “I see who is playing well. What are the match-ups? That is kinda what I told my guys in the last few days because we (now) have a lot of guys. After last year, with having so many injuries and not even being able to play five-on-five in practice to now having all these bodies, it’s a little weird. I told them, you have to be patient with me and understand it’s not about your stats. It’s about winning games and that’s not an easy thing for young kids to except but our guys are doing a good job with it. I like the fact I can give these guys more rest so they are fresher at the end of games.”
The road to the NEC tournament now takes a sudden turn in terms of difficulty as LIU’s next six games could determine whether or not his team will be a possible sleeper or a team fighting just to get in. It starts with the always competitive Battle of Brooklyn game on Saturday at first-place St. Francis Brooklyn. Perri knows his team will be for a difficult battle against one of the best defensive teams in the NEC.
“They have two superstars in (Brent) Jones and (Jalen) Cannon.” said Perri of the Terriers. “I know (head coach) Glenn Braica and I know his style of play and how tough they are, both on the glass and obviously their defense, how they deny and really pressure passing lanes. We haven’t been great on the glass but hopefully with (Glenn) Feidanga back, that helps us some. That is what we are going to have to get prepared for and obviously we don’t have a whole lot of time to do it but we will. It is going to be a major challenge but it should be fun.”
With the win against CCSU, LIU sits at 4-5 midway through the conference season and alone in seventh, a game behind a trio of teams tied for fourth at 5-4 and a game ahead of Sacred Heart in eighth. LIU could have been sitting in a prettier position had they not had some of those second-half leads in this first half of NEC play get away. Yet, the goal of making the NEC tournament once again is very much attainable if they continue playing solid basketball as they have over the last couple of games and learn from their earlier mishaps as they start the second half of NEC play. These next three weeks will be crucial. It all begins, of course, at the Battle of Brooklyn.
Jamil Hood did dress but Jack Perri said after the game that Hood was banged up which was why he did not play.
Landon Atterberry, who missed the last two games last week due to illness, played just five minutes and was 0-1 from the field.
Gerrell Martin scored in double figures for the sixth time in eight NEC games this season.