It definitely wasn’t pretty. Far from. But LIU Brooklyn once again used their defense to get a win, this time preserving a one-point victory at the Barclays Center on Sunday afternoon against North Carolina Central by a score of 78-77.
Junior forward Jerome Frink once again got a key block for the Blackbirds as he did last Monday against Loyola (Md.). This time, with LIU up one, Frink blocked NCCU’s Jeremiah Ingram shot with eight seconds left and then block him again with three seconds left and was able to corralled the rebound and launched it into LIU’s front court to run out the final ticks of the clock to get the win.
Frink has been a nice surprise on the defensive end for LIU. This is now two games Frink has saved LIU with key blocks at the end of the games. Frink finished the game with four blocks and now has seven blocks for the season.
“Our main focus (in our comeback) was on the defense.” said Frink after the game. “They were a lot bigger than us. We knew we had to block them out and contain the ball. My main focus (in the NCCU’s last possession) was trying to stop the ball because we were down one, it was a lot on the line so I just stood my ground and got the block. It is just me being at the right place at the right time.”
To get to that point, LIU needed to comeback from a 12-point deficit that saw them down 64-52 with 11:37 left to go in the game. LIU was finally able to get their offense going by getting some key baskets from sophomore Martin Hermannsson and junior Joel Hernandez to go along with the solid play from Frink all game long. Also, junior Aakim Saintil’s continuous penetration and aggressiveness got him to free throw line fourteen times and helped get LIU their first lead of the game with just over two minutes to play.
“I knew that their backside of their zone was real weak.” said Saintil. “They kept hanging on to our shooters so I was like, if they keep hanging out there, I’ll just keep driving. Their guards just kept reaching so I was like I’m going to use that to my advantage and be aggressive.”
LIU struggled in the first half getting going offensively. The Blackbirds shot just 30% from the field and once again couldn’t get it going from three missing their first six of seven three attempts.
The Blackbirds came out of the locker room flat as NCCU increased their four-point halftime lead to twelve in the first five minutes of the second half and it looked like it was not going to be LIU’s day. But LIU, with players this season that now have the experience and poise, didn’t panic and instead creeped back into the game by attacking the basket and finally getting their shots to fall.
Hernandez, in particular, had a big second half for LIU with fourteen second-half points to finish with sixteen. Perri, in the second half decided to go small and move Hernandez to the four-position, a position that he played a lot last season and even though Perri prefers to not have to play him in that spot, the junior guard thrived in the second half against bigger players.
“We went small down the stretch.” said Perri on his second half defensive adjustment. “That has been the lineup we kind of used late, using Joel at the four like we did last year. I don’t love doing that. I rather not but so far at this point it has been our best defensive lineup and we’ve been able to get stops so I’ve used it.”
LIU got a team-high 18 points from Frink along with seven rebounds. Saintil finished with fifteen, mainly by going 12 for 14 from the free throw line. He struggled from the floor, going 1 for 7. Hermannsson scored fifteen including scoring nine of those points in a late 12-2 run that got them right back in the game.
NCCU showed why they were perfect in the MEAC last season, they were a tough team all game long. Senior guard Donte Holmes, in his first game of the season after missing their first two games due to suspension, scored a game-high 26 points and was 4 of 5 from three. Holmes fouled out of the game with 4:59 remaining and the Eagles up by four. LIU outscored NCCU 11-6 in the final five minutes with Holmes out of the game. Junior Dajuan Graf finished with 11 for the Eagles who dropped to 1-2 to start their season.
LIU with the win now matches the 3-0 start they had back in 2010-11 in which they won their first four games that season and are the only undefeated team remaining among all NEC teams.
“That’s three-for-three with what we like to call them 50/50 games.” said Perri. “We got a lot of them on our schedule this year. In all three of them, we had to do a good job on the defensive end down the stretch so I’m very proud of our guys for making plays down the stretch. It was a tough game, (NCCU) is a great program. That was a great win for our guys.”
LIU now heads on the road through the Thanksgiving holiday as they first head down to Miami to next play Florida International on Wednesday in which it’s going to be a return for Jerome Frink who played his first two seasons collegiately at FIU before transferring to LIU Brooklyn prior to last season. A win at FIU would match the 2010-11 team for the last 4-0 start to their season and the 3-0 start is LIU’s best start in the Jack Perri era.