March Madness is just a few short weeks away. For a team to get to March especially in the NEC, they need to get have a strong February. Well, LIU Brooklyn started February off right with an important home win over a very good Robert Morris team Thursday night at the Steinberg Wellness Center with a 72-65 victory.
The win snapped a three-losing streak to the Colonials and also tied the overall win total of nine which they had all of last season and surpassed last season’s NEC win total of four with their fifth NEC win of the season. It was also their first win against a team above them in the NEC standings this season.
The Blackbirds used probably one of their best second half efforts of the season to get the big home win. After scoring just 24 points and shooting just a shade under 30% in the first half and going 0 of 5 from three, LIU made 50% of their shots in the second half and canning three threes, all from senior Gerrell Martin.
“Coach (Perri) told us to come out with a chip.” said Martin. “We knew what was at stake. We knew that they were a very good team. They were above us in the standings. We came out hungry. We were hungry to get this win (tonight). We just had that aggression towards the end of the first half and into the second, that was probably our best second half of the year. I just think a lot of guys contributed. They just brought it. I’m proud of the team.”
It was looking like it would be another big game from NEC Rookie of the Year candidate Marcquise Reed who was putting on a virtuoso performance in the first half with 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting. The freshman showed deft touch around the basket with beautiful looking runners and short jumpers.
RMU was up seven nearing the latter stages of the first half when LIU would go on a 8-0 run capped by three consecutive Blackbird steals on the defensive end turned into dunks on the offensive end, two by Joel Hernandez and one soaring one-hand dunk by Gerrell Martin. The run shifted the momentum towards LIU heading into the second half.
“We were just playing hard on defense, we weren’t trying to give them anything easy.” Hernandez said. “A lot of time, we wanted to beat them to 50/50 balls. I felt we were playing harder than Robert Morris and we got the steals and tried to capitalize on the other end.”
The Blackbirds used a balance of good ball movement, solid inside play, tremendous rebounding effort and sound defense to help build a double-digit lead several times even after a RMU run at one point shrunk the LIU lead down to four.
“We weren’t as stagnant as we were in the first half.” said Perri. “What Gerrell (Martin) said was right, that was one of our better second halves we had all year. We keep talking about and talking about it and I do think got some more stops early on in the second half and we played with a little more sense of urgency.”
For the third time in NEC play, four Blackbirds finished in double figures. It had been since their January 10th loss at Wagner that had happened.
Martin Hermannson led LIU with 17 points on just seven shot attempts, doing his damage from the free throw line where he was 9 of 12. Joel Hernandez and Gerrell Martin each finished with 15 points. Nura Zanna scored ten points and grabbed six boards in 18 minutes.
LIU got excellent games from Iverson Fleming and Glenn Feidanga off the bench. Fleming did his work on the defensive end in having to guard speedy guards in Kavon Stewart and Marcquise Reed. Feidanga in his fifth game back from his ankle injury, has really looked good since his return and had a terrific game, just missing a double-double with 9 points and 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes.
“I thought Fleming and Feidanga were really, really good for us (tonight).” said Perri. “(Feidanga) is such a good defender. You don’t even realize it maybe but not only taking charges but his positioning on ball screens and all those things. He just a really defender, he just really solid. He made some big plays. I’m glad that we got him back. He makes a huge difference.”
Even though RMU shot 47% from the field in the game, they held them to just two three-pointers in the game and held them to 0.88 points per possession (65 points/74 possessions), the lowest points per possession in NEC play so far this season. LIU also out-rebounded RMU 40 to 32 and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds.
“That a really good obviously against a real good Robert Morris team.” said Perri. “We did it when we didn’t shoot really well again. But we got stops. We controlled the glass. We got fouled. All of our game plan, all of the things we care about, we did a really good job with.”
RMU did not have the services of seniors David Appolon (shoulder) and Lucky Jones (concussion) in the game and LIU were able to take advantage with RMU not having their third and fourth leading-scorers.
RMU did have their top two scorers and they did most of the heavy-lifting for the Colonials with no Jones or Appolon available. Marcquise Reed finished with 22 and Rodney Pryor finished with a rather quiet 17 points on 18 shots. The loss drops RMU to 7-4 in the NEC and are now two games back of first-place St. Francis Brooklyn. They are still tied for third with Saint Francis U.
With the win, LIU goes to 5-6 and can get to the elusive .500 mark in the NEC with a win against SFU on Saturday. LIU keeps their seventh position in the standings and creep within a game of fifth-place teams Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner who both loss on Thursday night.
It would be great to see LIU finish this week and this mini-home stand 2-0 and get back to .500 before they travel on what will be the equivalent of a NEC west coast trip out to Western Pennsylvania and Maryland for three straight tough road games.
With a few more wins, they can pretty much lock up a return to the NEC tournament which is one of the short-term goals of this season’s LIU team. It doesn’t get easier though with a very good and very experienced SFU team coming into the Steinberg Wellness Center Saturday afternoon. SFU are now winners of three straight games after going through a three-game losing streak. It will another big test for the Blackbirds, one they must find a way to pass and get to .500 before heading ‘out west’ next week.