The week started with plenty of hope and optimism and a chance for the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds to earn themselves a top four spot for the upcoming NEC Tournament. The week turned out to be a giant disappointment.
Two games. Two blowout losses.
The second loss of the week was a embarrassing, thorough beating at the hands of Wagner who come in with a sub-.500 NEC record and demolished LIU in every capacity in a 60-47 loss that likely took away all hope of LIU hosting a game in a little less than two weeks from now.
Inexplicably, in a game that LIU desperately needed to get and in a winnable game at home and against an opponent in Wagner who is a good young team on the rise but won’t not mistaken for world-beaters anytime soon, came out as flat, unenergetic and uninspired as I have seen this LIU team play all season long.
LIU were dominated from the opening tip and looked like a team that would have rather stayed in the dorms on a miserable snowy day in Brooklyn then play in a meaningful game inside their own home gym with plenty of fan support who came out to watch them just lay an egg. LIU head coach Jack Perri took notice.
“We got what we deserved.” said an agitated Perri after the game. “It is interesting, with such a young group, you try and warn them. We try and warn them yesterday, the way they were handling practice. Tried to warn them again at shoot around, tried to warn them before the game and they got what they deserved. So, (it’s a) young group. We’ll see how they respond.”
The Blackbirds shot a season-low 22% from the field. The only other time they shot under 30% from the field this season was in the season opener at St. John’s.
Some of the credit has to go to Wagner’s defense who held LIU to a season-low 0.72 points per possession but LIU missed countless in-close baskets. LIU shot 23% (8 for 35) on their two-point attempts. They couldn’t buy a basket all game long. LIU made just twelve field goals the entire game and had just four assists.
Also, LIU were turning the ball over like a hot potato in the first half. They committed 13 first half turnovers alone. They also were dominated on the glass 46 to 37 and they gave up 12 of Wagner’s 18 offensive rebounds in the first half.
“We haven’t played like this all year and we got what we deserved. A beating.” Perri said.
LIU looked like a tired team in which the all the travel and mental wear of the last week and a half on the road, had really taken its toll. Not a single LIU player finished in double figures for LIU. It broke an eleven-year streak of have at least one double-digit scorer. The last time LIU didn’t have a double-digit scorer was way back on January 10, 2004 against Robert Morris, a streak of 348 games that was snapped.
The Blackbirds have been a streaky team all season long. They just came off their hottest streak of the season. The concern now after these two blowout losses this week, are LIU about to end the season on a down turn with a tough final week coming up.
“It is a tough stretch.” said Perri of LIU’s final month of the season. “I do think there is some fatigue involved. The (Pennsylvania) trip and then the Mount and then we get home at two in the morning on Friday and they had to go to class on Friday. I think there a little bit of fatigue. I’m concerned by what I just witnessed and now we’re going to see what some of these freshmen and what some of these sophomores have in their shirt. How are they going to respond? That is what I just said in the locker room, we are going to see what (they’re) made of. Everybody just saw it, they saw it. So we’ll see.”
Wagner got an excellent game once again from senior Marcus Burton who finished with a game-high 20 points. Junior Steadman Allen finished with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Wagner are now at .500 in the NEC at 8-8 and more importantly, take the season series from LIU in winning both meetings. LIU is now 0-6 against Wagner in regular season play since Perri took over as head coach. Their only win against Wagner in the last three seasons was in the 2013 NEC tournament semifinals in which LIU upset Wagner on the road.
Glenn Feidanga was LIU’s leading scorer with eight points. Iverson Fleming scored seven. Elvar Friðriksson and Trevin Woods both finished with six points apiece. No Blackbird shot 50% from the field. LIU only made 4 three-point field goals in 19 attempts.
With the pair of losses this week, LIU is now 8-8 in NEC play with two games remaining. One bit of bad news came with Robert Morris defeating Bryant on the road on Saturday. With the RMU win, they put themselves back in a three-way tie for second place in the NEC standing along with Bryant and Mount St. Mary’s at 10-6.
The only way LIU now can get a top four spot (the four-seed in all likelihood) is if LIU wins both of their final two games next week AND Robert Morris losses their final two games which are at home against Wagner and SFU AND Wagner losses in the season finale at Mount St. Mary’s. So the hope of LIU hosting a NEC quarterfinal game is very slim at this point.
A couple of positives from Saturday’s NEC results is that St. Francis Brooklyn beat Saint Francis U. and clinched the top-seed in the NEC tournament and will host every game they play (Congrats to the Terriers). SFU falls to a three-way tie with LIU and Wagner at 8-8.
At the moment, based on NEC tiebreaker rules, (not official, just my interpretation of the NEC tiebreaker rules) Wagner gets the five-seed due to superior winning percentage between the three teams involved in the tie (3-1 vs LIU and SFU). LIU would get the six-seed due to beating SFU twice head-to-head and SFU would get the seven-seed. Also, Sacred Heart lost to CCSU on the road, so they are still a game behind this group and hold the eighth-seed.
Things will likely be juggled in NEC’s final week but LIU’s best-case scenario is looking like probably getting a 5-seed. LIU should try and avoid a quarterfinal matchup with St. Francis Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary’s and look to try and take their chances against Bryant or Robert Morris.
The Blackbirds have to regroup and re-energized themselves and find a way to get two wins next week. St. Francis Brooklyn having clinched everything could likely scale back minutes on their starters and play more of their bench and get themselves ready for their postseason run which could be in LIU’s favor. Games between the Brooklyn teams are always fierce and it is a NEC-TV game so who knows what St. Francis Brooklyn plans on doing.
LIU needs to get their head back in the game and get back to work hard in practice and try to close the season strong and go into postseason play with some momentum and not limp in with a losing streak into an unfavorable matchup.