LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball this season is like looking at a glass filled with water and deciding whether to describe it as half-full or half-empty. Thursday night, the Blackbirds gave a glass half-full showing as they used one of their best second-half efforts of the season and took down yet another NEC first-place team at the Steinberg Center in Wagner, beating the Seahawks 82-69, to sweep the regular season series from them.
The Blackbirds got a great game from redshirt sophomore forward Nura Zanna who was the man for LIU in the first half, with 14 first half points on 6 of 8 shooting on his way to a 16-point night, one point shy of his career high which ironically was also against Wagner in a game in Staten Island last season.
“Coach was like, let me set the tone at first and I was like, ‘Ok, I got you coach’ you know.” said Zanna. “So as soon I took the jump shot, I was feeling good and I was like, let me just keep going then and that was how I set the tone and everything else was starting to go in. I just feel good, anytime we play them, I just feel good against them.”
“He started the game off, the way he played, he was tremendous.” said LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri of Zanna. “That happens when Nura makes his first one especially, he has the ability to do that, he shows that in practice so I was really happy for him and the other guys just stepped in line.”
Then after a four-point halftime lead, it was the duo of Jerome Frink and Martin Hermannsson who took over in the second half as well as a strong all-around defensive effort by the Blackbirds that saw them pull away and get as much as a 21-point lead before ultimately winning by 13.
Frink, in particular, dominated in the second half, scoring 19 of his team-high 26 points, making 7 of 9 shots in the half and finishing with his eighth double-double of the season by also grabbing 14 rebounds. Frink also scored his 1,000th career point in the win between his time at FIU and LIU. For Frink, this final stretch of games is all about finishing off the season strong.
“We needed this game a lot. (Going against) the number one team, so helped build our confidence up a lot. Having three more weeks of the season before heading to the (NEC tournament). We have to continue playing hard so we can get to the top half of the standing.”
The Blackbirds have been getting, in no subtle terms, mauled on the defensive end by teams of late. Jack Perri preached to his team before this important game versus Wagner, that they have to find a renewed focus on the defensive end if they plan on finishing up the season with some momentum.
“It was great for our guys to that they can see, if you focus and have that discipline to defend.” said Perri. “We changed some things up, we went straight man, we abandoned our switching and I think that has helped us, a few guys need to be a little bit more simplified and hopefully that is something that helps us the remainder of the year also.”
LIU held Wagner to 0.90 points per possession, their third-best defensive points per possession games in conference play this season and their second-best in NEC win this season, only behind the .873 points per possession LIU held Bryant to earlier this season.
LIU Brooklyn also out-rebounded Wagner 51 to 33 in the game and collected 16 offensive rebounds which was another point of emphasis for the Blackbirds after getting crushed on the boards in their loss to Sacred Heart last Saturday.
“That was the way I envisioned our team playing.” said Perri of his team dominant performance. “We have the ability to be great on the glass. We have the ability to defend when we want to and I thought our guys had a sense of urgency yesterday in practice, today in shoot-around was our best shoot-around of the year and our guys came out with focus and earned the victory.”
Wagner shot just 38 percent in the game and was held to 3 of 18 shooting from three. Mike Carey and Mike Aaman lead the Seahawks with 12 points each. Carey finished with a double-double as he grabbed ten rebounds as well. JoJo Cooper scored 11 off the bench. Wagner’s leading scored Corey Henson was held to six points on 2 of 9 shooting and played in only 19 minutes and only six minutes in the second half. With the loss, Wagner is now 8-5 in the NEC and falls into a tie for third-place with Mount St. Mary’s.
Martin Hermannsson continued his run of great play with his first career double-double, 17 points and a career-high 11 rebounds to go along with five assists, a block and a steal. Joel Hernandez finished with nine points and nine rebounds. Aakim Saintil has a pretty quiet night offensively with eight points and two assists before fouling out but did a solid job defensively slowing down the Wagner point guards.
The win makes it six games in a row in which LIU has alternated wins and losses and it puts them one game under .500 in NEC play at 6-7 and gets them once again back at .500 overall at 12-12.
LIU now embarks on a pivotal three-game road trip beginning on President’s day with an afternoon clash with rival St. Francis Brooklyn. Jack Perri sees the positive in heading on the road for a team which has played pretty well on the road this season.
“We won on the road.” said Perri. “We, I think, actually have a better road record than we do a home record this year. If we do this, if we rebound and defend, that is the stuff that travels. We really talk about not fouling also and playing discipline. You want to make more than your opponents take and we fouled way too much this year and for a young team, that usually tends to happen. To have this today, if we can keep doing that then we’ll have a chance.”
LIU has five games remaining in their regular season schedule and currently sit alone in seventh-place in the NEC standings, a game behind fifth-place teams Sacred Heart and St. Francis Brooklyn and two games behind third-place teams, Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner. So mathematically, LIU is still alive in getting a top four seed for the upcoming NEC tournament. That would also mean they would have to get at least two or more likely, all three games on this upcoming road trip if they want to keep those hopes alive.
It is a tall order for a team that hasn’t won two games in a row since the second full week of January but that is the task at hand for the Blackbirds if they want to host a NEC tournament game March 2nd. They will have an extra 48 hours to prepare for the Terriers on Monday. They going to need to make the most of it.