It will be looked back as a successful and winning non-conference season for the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds but you can also look back and feel like they could have gotten even more wins out of this season before the true season which is conference play coming up on Saturday.
Add one more game to that column as LIU let a ten-point second half lead slip away and later a five-point lead with 5:50 to go disappear to fall to UMass at the Mullins Center Tuesday night 83-79 in mostly back and forth affair.
This was in some ways very much like the Fordham game in which LIU could have pulled it out but just couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch when they needed it to get the big upset win.
The Blackbirds after falling behind by nine at 30-21 in the first half, went on a 8-0 run to get back in it and close to within three at the half at 39-36.
LIU started the second half off fast with a 14-2 run to take a nine-point lead at the first media timeout. They later got up ten and seemingly looked like they might start pulling away.
But once again, LIU just couldn’t find the killer instinct which LIU head coach Jack Perri was hoping this team would develop through the non-conference season and eventually find it but yet again LIU saw a double-digit second half lead dwindle away and eventually disappear. UMass went on a 14-3 extended run to regain the lead at 57-56 with eight minutes remaining.
LIU then went on a 6-0 run to take a five-point lead only to see UMass go on a back-breaking 15-4 run which gave them a 72-66 lead with 3:12 remaining and pretty much finish off LIU although in the closing minutes they were doing everything they could to let LIU hang around and possible make it interesting at the end but LIU couldn’t make enough plays and missed some crucial free throws, none bigger than Jerome Frink two misses from the charity stripe with 1:13 left with LIU down six.
It is hard to put any fault on Jerome Frink who was a complete monster for the Blackbirds, especially in the second half. Frink, at one point scored ten of LIU’s twelve points in a just over a five minutes span including two big-time one-hand slams. Frink finished with a team-high 21 points and 13 rebounds along with two blocks. It was Frink’s third double-double of the season.
UMass needed all of the top-notch performances to avoid the upset. Guard Trey Davis finished with a game-high 25 points but a lot of his damage came from the free throw where he was ten of twelve. Donte Clark finished with 21 and Jabarie Hinds who scored 17 for a UMass team who heads into A10 play at 7-5.
LIU will look at their three point shooting (6 for 25) and their rebounding (-7 rebounding differential) as well as their defense in the second half as to why this game got away from them.
Martin Hermannsson had another solid game for LIU. He scored 18 points for the second game in a row on 12 shots and played a team-high 35 minutes. Joel Hernandez played a good game with 13 points and 8 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Aakim Saintil finished with 8 points and 6 assists but didn’t have a good shooting night going 2 for 12 from the field including 1 of 7 from three.
Jack Perri didn’t get a whole lot from his bench as they shot 6 for 19 from the field. The Woods twins had a difficult night from three going a combined 1 for 6 from deep including a couple of ugly airballs. Their shots seem so rushed at times, they are much better shooters when they have their feet set and get a get a good glance at the rim but more times they just catch and shoot with their balance off and it hasn’t resulted well for either one so far. Glenn Feidanga gave LIU five solid minutes off the bench in the first half and scored a couple of baskets.
LIU scored 0.983 points per possession (79 points/80 possessions) and gave up 0.978 points per possession (84 pts/85 poss). It was the third consecutive game in which they scored as well as held their opponent to under one point per possession.
All in all though as LIU heads into NEC play this coming Saturday, you have to say this non-conference season was a good step in the right direction at 6-5 after going 4-7 in non-conference play last season. LIU showed they are a legit contender for an NEC title this season after two seasons of rebuilding this team following their back-to-back-to-back NEC championships.
Positives for LIU going into NEC play: 1. They are a scrappy team who show more toughness then the teams of the last couple of seasons. 2. They have a nice three-headed attack right now with Frink, Hermannsson and Saintil. If all three play well, LIU will win nearly every time out. 3. They should be among the top rebounding teams during NEC play and should get their opportunities on second chance points.
Negatives: 1. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of killer instinct and putting teams away. 2. Their three-point shooting still need to get better if they plan on going far this season. 3. Their defense has to a better job especially in second half of games.
Come Saturday, when LIU visits the Mount to begin NEC play and a stretch of four NEC games in eight days, the big time games begins and the run to March starts in earnest. The winning non-conference season was nice but if LIU want to win an NEC regular season title which I think 14 wins will be the number to get it done this season, they will need to start off strong and show the league that this non-conference season wasn’t a fluke. If they want to show they are players for this thing, they are going to need to get off to strong start and show the NEC they are ready to regain the throne. It all starts on Saturday and the team everyone picked to win it all, the Mount will be waiting. Let the fun begin.