It will be a Merry Christmas after all for the LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball team this year. The Blackbirds were able to stave off a late run by the University of Incarnate Word and defeat the Cardinals, 66-59, at the Barclays Center Tuesday night.
Incarnate Word came to Brooklyn fresh off a 22-point win at St. John’s last Friday night and that seemed to have gotten the attention of the Blackbirds, who came out to a good start early on and with the exception of a brief one-point deficit in the first half, led wire-to-wire although as per usual of LIU this season, they let the game get interesting near the end.
Sophomore Martin Hermannsson had a nice bounce-back game after just a five-point showing last time out versus Sam Houston State. Hermannsson finished with a game-high 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds. He went to the free throw line a team-high ten times and made nine.
Hermannsson played more like himself after completing his last final exam the previous day. He admitted after the game that the stresses of final exams had weighed him down some and was happy to be finally done with them.
“I didn’t do too good last game.” said Hermannsson. “I have been staying up late for finals, it just a part of it dealing with finals I guess. I was ready to go today, finished my last final yesterday and I felt good. I just felt before the (Sam Houston) game that my energy level wasn’t right so I decided to show up today.”
“Martin was doing a paper literally at 5 o’clock today before we came over (to the Barclays Center). “You can see the glazed look at guys in practice and stuff like that. It is just a tough time. (Finals) have gone later this year, it is usually done by now. To fight through it, I thought our guys did a good job.”
LIU was able to hold down Incarnate Word defensively. LIU allowed a season-low 59 points to the Cardinals, and gave up a season-low 0.746 points per possession (59 points in 79 possessions). LIU forced UIW into committing 21 turnovers.
LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri knows that if they are to make waves during the soon-approaching NEC season, they are going to need to do a better job holding teams down defensively and they got a much better effort out of that end of the court against UIW.
“On defense, we have to be smarter.” said Hermannsson.”We have to be solid on the defensive end especially late in the game. We can’t be giving up free throws and easy baskets.”
“I thought for the most part, our game plan to take away their threes was very good until the very end when we lost a little bit of focus and gave us a few (Kyle) Hittle threes and the kid (Shawn) Johnson hit a three also.” said Perri. “They hit 12 threes against St. John’s, they have that ability to make threes. They have several guys who are talented three-point shooters. I think it helped that the kid (Jontrell) Walker struggled a little bit and got into foul trouble, kind of like Aakim did. I thought our guys effort was pretty good (defensively) and to get twelve steals and be that active, I was happy.”
The Blackbirds though didn’t make things easy for themselves. They had a ten-point lead with 3:47 left to play, cut down to just three after a 7-0 run that took 1:38. Jack Perri began calling for a timeout on the sidelines and due to the new timeout rules this season, only the players on the floor can call a timeout and none of his players saw him to do so and they played on. Martin Hermannsson finished on a reverse layup and then after a Jerome Frink steal, he went down on the other end and made a huge slam that put LIU back up by seven with 1:32 to go and that quick 5-0 non-timeout spurt helped seal the win for LIU.
“My team likes to give me agita with some of the things down the stretch.” said Perri. “A little bit lack of focus otherwise it ends up being an 18-point game to 20-point game instead of having to go all way down to the stretch.”
LIU held UIW’s leading scorer Jontrell Walker, who came in averaging nearly 17 points per game, to just seven points. He struggled from the floor by going 3 of 10 shooting and fouled out in just 18 minutes. Derail Green scored 16 to lead UIW.
LIU junior forward Jerome Frink had a good night shooting the ball. He shot 6 of 9 from the floor including a three and finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
LIU’s bench was put to the test in this game as Perri used twelve players in the first half due to their foul woes. LIU committed 12 first half fouls and saw starting point guard Aakim Saintil play only the first two minutes of the first half after getting hit with two quick personal fouls. Perri credits his bench guys for stepping up and giving important minutes when the Blackbirds needed it.
“I said before the game I was going to play a lot of guys regardless.” said Perri. “Now Aakim (Saintil) ended up getting two really quick fouls so that helped make sure that I got everybody in. I thought some guys did a really good job. I thought Raul Frias gave us, even though he didn’t score, some good minutes defensively and he was very active. Glenn Feidanga, I thought did a good job in his limited minutes in the first half. Trevon Woods did some really good things also.”
Eight LIU players got themselves on the score sheet. Joel Hernandez finished with 9 points and 7 rebounds. Nura Zanna finished with seven points and six rebounds. Saintil finished with seven points in 18 minutes. LIU scored their lowest points per possession of the season at 0.798 (66 points in 83 possessions).
With the win, LIU are now 6-4 and they now secured their first winning non-conference season since 2010-11 (8-3) with one more non-conference game remaining. The win versus Incarnate Word was their highest Kenpom-rated victory (174) so far this season. They also finish a perfect 2-0 at the Barclays Center this season, a LIU first.
LIU next face UMass next Tuesday to finish off their non-conference campaign and start a three-game road swing. LIU will look to make get consecutive wins since starting off the season winning their first three games.