Talk about some finish. The 1ooth meeting between LIU Brooklyn and Wagner was nearly a blowout affair for Wagner but it turned into a thriller as LIU Brooklyn came all the way back from seventeen points down in the second half and nearly gave it away in the final seconds as a putback by Wagner’s Michael Carey on a missed Corey Henson free throw with less than two seconds remaining gave the Blackbirds a huge 71-70 road win at the Spiro Sports Center Thursday night.
This one had the makings of another ugly loss early on. LIU badly needed a hero and on Thursday night, that hero was Aakim Saintil, who had been badly struggling for most of the last four weeks but he came out of the gate firing, scoring seven of LIU’s first nine points and was not to be denied as he put on one of his best performances of the season with a career-high 27 points.
“I just knew I had to be aggressive.” Saintil said. “I knew how (Wagner) play. They were going to come out being physical. I knew we had to come out prepared. I haven’t been shooting well lately so I knew I had to at least keep being aggressive. That was my mentality. If I’m not making shots, just keep taking them and they’ll eventually going to fall.”
Wagner dominated most of the first half as they looked like every bit as one of the NEC favorites heading into the game. They were the more energized, hungrier team in the first half and it showed. Wagner’s trademark tough defense came to play in the first half as they held LIU’s top two scorers, Jerome Frink and Martin Hermannsson to a combined one of six from the field and that one coming on a Frink bank three at the halftime buzzer to reduce LIU’s deficit down to 13 at the break.
LIU would immediately go down by seventeen and it looked like their conference season would start needing to be put on a life support. But the tenacity and perseverance that LIU showed many times during non-conference play finally showed up in conference play as they went on a 17-0 run to completely make it a new game at 56-all.
LIU would get the lead late in the game with a Jerome Frink two-hand jam to put LIU up 70-68.
Then came the wild last eleven seconds. Hermannsson was at the free throw line to try to put LIU up three. The 88% free throw shooter misses on his first attempt but made his second to put LIU up two. Michael Carey for Wagner then misses on a layup and reserve Glenn Feidanga, who was in for Nura Zanna who had fouled out, grabbed the board and was heading to the free throw line for his chance to ice the game for the Blackbirds.
Feidanga misses both attempts and on the second miss, inexplicably fouls Wagner’s Romone Saunders going after the loose ball to send him to the free throw line to try and tie the game. Saunders makes the first but misses on the second and Michael Carey grabs the rebound, quickly shoots up a layup which reminded Blackbirds fans of the Kenneth Ortiz buzzer-beating layup from 2013 that beat LIU in a two-point thriller. This time though, Carey missed the layup and LIU leaves Staten Island with a huge, much needed win in their back pockets.
“It was a huge win, they are all huge.” said LIU head coach Jack Perri after the win. “I think after last week to come back and respond, even after struggling. We were down 17 and to be able to come back, we showed some resiliency with these guys, just keep playing and that’s something that we talk about that all the time so I’m glad to see that they didn’t give up and continued to keep playing and made enough plays down the stretch to win.”
“We needed some momentum.” said Saintil. “We saw how badly we was playing, we saw it on film and we was like we can’t come out like that especially against Wagner. They are probably playing the best right now in the league so we was like we have to come out and play better. We can’t be bad now and then we go 1-4 to Bryant, that is even tougher so we had to get this win.”
Wagner will have no one to blame but themselves for the loss especially in the second half. They quickly put LIU in the bonus with foul woes and then had trouble making their free throws. LIU, at one point, made fifteen straight free throws to finished 17 of 21 from the foul line in the second half while Wagner missed critical free throws especially down the stretch. Wagner missed 10 of 22 free throws in the second half and finished 13 of 24 from the line in the game.
After the game, Wagner head coach Bashir Mason felt like his team defended Saintil the way they wanted but he just played better than expected.
“I think we gave (our team) a great scout on Saintil.” said Mason. “He is playing with Jerome Frink who is a first-team all-league guy and borderline NEC Player of the Year. Our description of Saintil is that he thinks he is Jerome Frink. He’ll shoot the ball every single time down the floor as if he is not playing with a potential player of the year guy and that’s what he did. I thought he shot some ill-advised shots in the first half but his confidence never wavered. That is just the type of player he is and he is really good.”
Credit also need to go to Nura Zanna who in the first half was pretty much LIU only offense for some stretches. He scored all of his 12 points in the first half on 4 of 5 shooting and LIU every bit of those points or else they would have been trailing by twenty or more.
Jerome Frink and Martin Hermannsson came alive in the second half. Hermannsson finished with nine points, all in the second half while Jerome Frink finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, 15 of those points in the second half in playing all 40 minutes for LIU.
Joel Hernandez had a great game on the defensive end and had a big time drive on the baseline for a slam to finish with six points. Hernandez, Frink, Hermannsson and Saintil played all twenty minutes of the second half. Feidanga was the only bench player for LIU to get second half minutes and he played 14 of 17 minutes in the second half including the majority of LIU’s 17-0 run.
LIU committed just nine turnovers and only two turnovers in the second half.
Romone Saunders finished with 21 points to lead Wagner. Michael Carey finished with a double-double, 13 points and 10 rebounds and Dwaun Anderson scored ten as Wagner now falls to 3-2 in the NEC.
With the win, LIU goes to 2-3 in the NEC and now stay in striking distance of the conference leaders as they remain two games back of the group of first place teams.
This current three-game road trip doesn’t get any easier as the Blackbirds head up to Rhode Island for Saturday’s tilt against another first-place team in Bryant, who like LIU had their own thriller in the final seconds in their win against St. Francis Brooklyn Thursday night.
Hopefully, this win can carry some momentum and confidence with them up to Bryant as another tough test awaits them.