There was not much to it for LIU Brooklyn entering Saturday’s game against Sacred Heart at the William H. Pitt Center. An LIU win and they would avoid being the eight-seed. An LIU loss and they would have to face the cross-Fulton Street rival St. Francis Brooklyn for a third time. It was a neck and neck battle for 33 minutes but the last seven was owned by the home team Pioneers and it resulted in LIU’s fourth straight loss with a 84-73 defeat to Sacred Heart.
With the loss, LIU Brooklyn will stay in Brooklyn and won’t have to take any long bus trips to their NEC quarterfinal game but they will have to face the Terriers who finished the NEC regular season 15-3 and with the number one seed.
Both teams came at each other from the outset and the game went back and forth. The lead changed hands nine times before a 17-7 Sacred Heart run with under seven minutes remaining gave the Pioneers the lead they would not relinquish. SHU senior Phil Gaetano buried the Blackbirds with two straight threes in the run that help put them away.
“We had good energy to start the second half.” said LIU head coach Jack Perri after the game. “But immediately Martin (Hermannsson) got his third foul and that played a part, he was rolling a little bit. That happens and we started changing the way we play offense. We got back to where we were trying to do too much individually.”
Once again, LIU turned the ball over way too much. They committed 21 turnovers, 13 of those in the second half. The 21 turnovers were converted into 24 Sacred Heart points. LIU have now averaged more than 20 turnovers per game in their current four game losing streak. It is one of several major problems the Blackbirds have as they enter the NEC tournament.
LIU also committed 22 personal fouls and sent the Pioneers to the free throw line 26 times while LIU went to the line just 17 times. The Pioneers also grabbed 14 steals.
“That is now back-to-back we’ve given up fourteen steals.” said Perri. “That is something that is one, unheard of and two, you are not going to win many games if you allow that to happen.”
LIU shot the ball much better than they have over the last few games. They finished with a 41% field goal percentage and made ten three-pointers. The defense though overall struggled as the 84 points allowed will attest. Sacred Heart shot 44% from the field and scored 1.1 points per possession.
LIU finish the regular season without scoring over 1.0 points per possession in their last four games. In the last ten games, LIU scored above 1.0 ppp just twice. “Our defense has been ahead of our offense this year.” said Perri. “We have had that in quite a while (here).”
Sacred Heart with the win finish the regular season at .500 in the NEC and earn the six-seed in next week’s NEC tournament. They will face three-seeded Robert Morris on Wednesday. SHU freshman Cane Broome came off the bench to score a game-high 21 points on 7 of 13 shooting. He should be All-NEC Rookie team which will be named this coming week.
Along with Broome, five SHU players in total finished in double figures. Tevin Falzon, who played great, finished with 16 points. Senior Phil Gaetano on senior day finished with a double-double 15 points and 10 assists. Sophomore De’Von Barnett also finished with a double-double 11 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Evan Kelley scored 10 points.
Four LIU players finished in double figures led by Martin Hermannsson 16 points on 5 of 7 shooting before he fouled out for just the second time this season. Elvar Friðriksson finished with 14 points. It was the first loss LIU suffered this season when he scores at least 14 points. LIU had been a perfect 6-0 before this game when that happened. Senior Gerrell Martin scored 12 points but was just 4 of 12 shooting and 0 of 6 from three. Trevin Woods finished with 10 points, all in the first half.
If there is another concern going into the NEC tournament, it is the play of freshman Nura Zanna. The big man really struggled in this game, going 0 for 6 and finished the game scoreless. He committed four turnovers and only grabbed four rebounds. He has not looked good in this four-game losing streak with the exception of the St. Francis Brooklyn game Thursday night. LIU needs for Zanna to find his offensive game if they want any chance of winning at St. Francis Brooklyn on Wednesday.
The streaky regular season for LIU has come to an end. It is crazy what a roller coaster of a season they have played. They started off the season losing six straight, then won four straight, then lost three straight, won two of three, lost a pair in a row, won six of seven and then lost the final four straight. We expected LIU to be inconsistent with a young team but even this kind of up and down play was been hard to fathom.
LIU now prepares themselves for the third installment of the Battle of Brooklyn for the 2014-15 season. LIU and St. Francis Brooklyn will meet for the sixth time in the NEC tournament but for the first time since 1996 NEC tournament. LIU is 4-1 all-time against St. Francis Brooklyn in the NEC tournament with their one loss coming in their only game played at the Pope Center back in 1990-91. LIU is 0-2 versus the top-seeded Terriers this season.
Even though the Blackbirds are limping into the NEC tournament, they did accomplish what was a major team goal for this young team which was to just get into the NEC tournament and get a taste for it. There isn’t much bigger games than playing your neighborhood rival for the third time in the pressure of postseason college basketball so they going to get first-hand what NEC tournament basketball is all about as the learning process of this season continues.
“This was one of our goals, to get into the playoffs.” said Perri. “Now, we can’t be satisfied with that. We now play St. Francis (Brooklyn) who we just played so you know exactly what you’re preparing for. We don’t have to travel. Ok, we get to sleep in our own beds and walk to the game, that is certainly a positive. I think our guys should have confidence going into this game that they can beat this team. They got to play with unbelievable focus and sense of urgency like we did (on Thursday). We got to eliminate turnovers, we got to be smarter with our fouls. After regrouping, we got to get back at it. There is not going to be any pressure on us, nobody thinks we can do it. We should be playing loose and should be playing aggressive that way.”
Good thing for LIU is they won’t have to travel very far as they prepare for Wednesday and see if they muster up enough will and determination to make some NEC tournament history and become the first eight-seed to ever knocked off a one-seed in the current playoff format. It is going to an extremely difficult task but not an impossible one. The postseason is a different animal and strange things always seem to happen in the NEC tournament. It should be a fun, loud time at the Pope Center Wednesday night and I’ll be there to witness it.