If you were at the Steinberg Wellness Center on Saturday afternoon, you may have thought you watched two completely different games. It was a flat, unenergetic first half for LIU Brooklyn which ended with them down twelve. It was a much different second half which saw LIU come back and pull off their biggest come-from-behind victory of the season as they defeated Saint Francis U. 66-60 and by doing so, reached .500 in the NEC for the first time this season.
The Blackbirds started the game 0 for 8 from the field as SFU jumped out to a 12-2 lead. SFU looked like a team that came out ready to play and used outstanding ball movement and strong three-point shooting to get themselves up by fifteen at 30-15 with 6 minutes left in the half. LIU used a 10-4 run to get within nine but once again they allow their opponent to hit a shot before the halftime buzzer as SFU’s Dominique Major hit a three and gave the Red Flash a 37-25 halftime lead.
“For whatever reason, maybe it was the Thursday-Saturday with a young team, maybe that had something to do with it, I wasn’t sure.” said LIU head coach Jack Perri about his team’s first half doldrums. “As you saw, with the substitutions, I just kept trying somebody else until somebody could kind of figure it out. We couldn’t get stops. We couldn’t contain the basketball.”
LIU needed a halftime jolt and they got it from somewhere. They got off to a 12-5 start in the second half which included a pair of threes to cut the SFU lead down to five. After a Ronnie Drinnon layup, LIU would continue their comeback with a 14-5 run to briefly take their first lead since they took the game was 2-0 LIU.
SFU would take back the lead one final time and then LIU would close the door on the Red Flash with a 13-5 run to end the game and get the six-point victory.
The Blackbirds scored 41 second half points and out-scored SFU by 18 in the second half.
“One thing I’m thinking about our team is that everybody is maturing.” Gerrell Martin said after the win. “Before we probably would have gotten mad at each other but now we told ourselves in the locker room, ‘we got it’, we’ve been in this predicament a lot of times. Everyone came together, nobody blamed anybody. We just can come out, did what we had to do. (We) made a couple of fine tone things on defense and (said) go out and get the win.”
SFU took 29 shots in the first half and 19 of those were from three. They hit seven of those threes. Of their 14 made shots, they had assists in 11 of them in shooting 48% from the field. LIU was a cold 28% in the first half and were just 2 of 12 from three.
The second half was a different story. SFU were just 7 for 23 from the field and 4 of 17 from three. LIU meanwhile snapped out of their cold funk and hit 53% of their shots in the second half and hit half of their 12 three-point attempts.
LIU scored 1.04 points per possession (66 points/63 possessions) against SFU and it was the first time in four games they were above the 1.0 points per possession mark. They held SFU to 0.96 points per possession (60 pts/62 poss).
SFU got 12 point each from seniors Earl Brown and Dominique Major. Brown had his third straight double-double with 10 rebounds as well. Ben Millaud-Meunier scored nine and Ronnie Drinnon in his return after missing his team’s last three games, finished with eight points. SFU falls to 7-5 in the NEC as the loss stops a three-game winning streak.
It was a good game for the LIU freshmen starting trio of Zanna, Friðriksson and Hermannsson. Nura Zanna led the Blackbirds with 15 points and 9 rebounds, both team-highs. Elvar Friðriksson scored 14 points and Hermannsson had just four points but led LIU in assists with seven. Zanna was able to stay out of foul trouble and didn’t pick up any fouls in the first half and played 29 minutes.
“I want to get a lot of playing time. (Coach Perri) told me, you need to stay out of foul trouble.” said Zanna. “So I was like ‘ok’. (He told me) to just raise my hands up. Don’t try to be (overly) aggressive.”
Joel Hernandez scored seven but struggled from the free throw line once again missing five of eight free throws. Trevin Woods finished with six points and six boards in 19 minutes off the bench. Landon Atterberry played his best game since his illness and scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds including two threes in 15 minutes.
“As a senior, it is not easy what kind of happened for him.” said Perri of Atterberry. “He got sick. He lost a lot of weight. You look at him now, he is still not as strong as he was. Last game, he didn’t play as much. I’ve kinda gone with some other guys earlier and I told him, hey man, this last month you’re going to get opportunities, seize it when you get it and today he really did. He’s been a good teammate. He has done a good job and I’m happy for him. He made some big plays for us.”
LIU grabbed two big wins over two teams which were above them in the standings and got to elusive .500 mark as they get ready to embark on what will be a tough three-game road trip to Robert Morris, Saint Francis U. and Mount St. Mary’s.
This was LIU’s first 2-0 week of the NEC season and it couldn’t have come at a bigger or better time. They defeated two NEC championship contenders at home and now have won four of their last five games. LIU at 6-6, are now tied for sixth in the NEC standing with Wagner and are now just a game behind fourth-place teams Saint Francis U. and Mount St. Mary’s.
More important I feel, with the win, LIU is another game closer to getting back into the NEC tournament. With losses by FDU and CCSU on Saturday, they are now a full four games clear of the ninth position which would put them on the outside looking in.
Now, it is important for LIU to try and get some important wins on the road. It is going to be difficult but they will need to get at least one of these next three road games to keep the pressure off them in terms of getting back to the NECs. If they want to make a run at a first-round home game in the NECs, they are going to need to pick off at least two and hope some result fall their way.
Either way, LIU is hitting the road with some confidence and they need to bring solid basketball along with them if want to have a winning road trip. It is going to be difficult but not impossible. As this season has already shown in the NEC, anybody can’t beat anybody on any given day.