LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri after going through the end of game handshake line went up to each and every member of his team and gave them all huge high fives with probably the biggest smile we have seen from him this entire season.
Perri had reason to be happy. His team went on the road and pull off one of the two upsets of the 2016 Northeast Conference Tournament quarterfinals with a 84-76 victory over Sacred Heart Wednesday night but it didn’t come as easily as it was looking like it was going to be midway through.
LIU, who came out of the gate the more energetic and hungrier team, got out in front and took a ten-point lead just ten minutes into the game. Their lead got as high as twenty with 2:29 remaining in the first half before a 6-0 Sacred Heart run right before the half gave LIU a 47-33 lead at the break.
“I though our guys came out very, very focused on the defensive end.” said Perri. “We did a really good job with our focus and we rebounded the basketball very well in the first half. I felt we dominated in a lot of phases, 50/50 balls, rebounding. Because we got them to miss, we were able to run and that got us the lead.”
LIU would see their lead cut to eleven before getting back up to seventeen with 13:34 remaining in the game. Then the game turned into the Cane Broome show.
Broome, the newly-minted NEC Player of the Year, who was held to a pedestrian ten points by his standards, went to plan B on his footwear.
In the first half, Broome was noticably have issues with a new pair of sneakers he was wearing for just the first time in a game and had problems staying on his feet, slipping at least four times in the first half. At halftime, Broome switched out to his more familiar red shoes. And like Mars Blackman said back in the day in those infamous Nike commericals with Michael Jordan, “Yo money, its gotta be the shoes.” Broome nearly had a second half for the ages.
After two Tevin Falzon free throws cut LIU’s lead to fifteen, Cane Broome took over.
He went off and score TWENTY(!!) of Sacred Heart’s next twenty-four points. In this amazing run, Broome was pulling off his best Steph Curry imitation with a couple of long bombs from three, including one that would have been well behind the NBA three-point line.
This amazing Broome run cut LIU’s lead to one with 3:42 left and it was looking like LIU were minutes away from being knocked out by the NEC Player of the Year.
LIU though didn’t fold the tent. After Sacred Heart had cut the lead back down to two, after every made Pioneers shot, LIU had an answer either in the paint or at the free throw line at the other end, not allowing Sacred Heart to take the lead at any point in the second half and holding off the hard-charging Pioneers to an eight-point victory.
“In the second half, they made their run, we knew they were.” said Perri. “The kid (Broome) made unbelievable plays and unbelievable shots, obviously number one on their team and we were able to keep them at bay by scoring and we were very unselfish. We went to some action against their zone that allowed us to get some movement and our guys were able to attack and they made plays for one another and we made our free throws. It was a great win for our guys.”
“We played a very good offensive team that played very well offensively.” said Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina. “We dug ourselves a big hole. You have to give LIU a lot of credit for that, they played terrifically.”
LIU would likely not have won this game without the stellar performances of Joel Hernandez and two guys who played outstanding off the bench in Iverson Fleming and Glenn Feidanga.
Hernandez, who has played well all season against Sacred Heart, was once again a dominating force especially in the paint. He finished with a team-high 22 points on 10 of 19 shooting and also grabbed seven boards.
Hernandez stepped up big-time as Jerome Frink and Nura Zanna were greatly limited due to foul trouble throughout the entire game and his consistent attack to the rim was something Sacred Heart had no way of stopping.
“Going into the game, we didn’t want to settle for jump shots.”said Hernandez. “We wanted to drive the ball and get the ball inside because we knew we could score a lot easier inside than shooting jump shots.”
Basketball is a funny game sometimes because you never know when someone or in this case someones will play one of their better games of the season. Well, LIU got that from two guys off the bench in Iverson Fleming and Glenn Feidanga.
Fleming was the huge spark off the bench to give LIU the big lead and Feidanga played probably his best game of the season in particularly in the second half with front court foul troubles the starters were having.
Fleming, who was benched for four games in mid-January for basically poor play, has re-found his confidence and his shot at the best possible time. He scored 13 points in the first half while going a perfect 5 for 5 from the field including making all three of his threes. He finished with 18 points on 6 of 7 shooting and was a huge reason why LIU is advancing on to play Saturday afternoon.
“Iverson (was tremendous) both defensively and offensively.” said Perri. “Iverson on Broome in the first half was tremendous and really, really focused.”
“When we come into these types of games, our coach always tells us (to have a) next man’s mentality.” said Fleming. “We got to stay ready. It’s a team game so we got to help the guys. We got in early foul trouble so it is just a matter of staying ready and being prepared.”
Glenn Feidanga, who has had a difficult season after losing his father over the summer, played his best game of the season. He instantly came off the bench and provided a lift. In one play in the first half, he got the ball off a steal on Broome and went three-quarters court and threw down a massive one-hand dunk that made the LIU bench jump out of their seats.
Feidanga finished with a season-high ten points, six rebounds and two steals in 23 big minutes off the bench and made four of his five shots from the floor and saved his best game for when it counted most.
LIU’s bench outscored Sacred Heart’s 30 to 6 and LIU scored 54 of their 84 points from in the paint.
“Some of our 6th, 7th and 8th-men, who had been stepping up all year, didn’t play as well and they had some 6th, 7th, and 8th-men that played really well and that was the difference.” said Latina.
“Those three guys did a really good job coming off the bench obviously.” said Perri. “Iverson and Glenn gave us a great lift and we needed them because we had the foul trouble and they did a tremendous job.”
As for Sacred Heart, Cane Broome led all scorers with 35 points and nearly stole this game away from LIU in a masterful second-half performance. Freshman Quincy McKnight finished with 14 points and senior Tevin Falzon in his final game in a Sacred Heart uniform scored 13 points.
Sacred Heart finishes their season 12-18 but did win ten of the their last fifteen games to close out their season and although they will lose seniors Tevin Falzon and Jordan Allen, they will return a nice core of Broome, McKnight and De’von Barnett who was redshirted this season due to injury. The Pioneers are set to have some good seasons in the next couple of years.
LIU pulled this quarterfinal win without huge games from their starting lineup outside of Hernandez. Martin Hermannsson didn’t have one of his best games with 13 points and 6 assists but also with an uncharacteristic five turnovers. Jerome Frink was held down by foul trouble and played just 22 minutes. He finished with ten points. Aakim Saintil had a rough second half trying to guard Broome and then putting up a couple of ill-advised threes while Sacred Heart was making their run. He finished with seven points and just one assist. Nura Zanna played just 15 minutes and scored two points.
With the win, LIU will now advance to take on the number one seed Wagner after they beat Robert Morris 59-50 at home Wednesday night to advance. LIU is the lowest seeded team to advance to Saturday’s NEC tournament semifinals.
LIU won both games from Wagner this season and were the only NEC team this season to get a season sweep of the Seahawks. Wagner will be heavily motivated to not let LIU beat them a third time this season and Jack Perri knows winning at Wagner again will be no easy feat.
“They are a really, really good basketball team.” said Perri of their next opponent. “Bashir Mason has done an unbelievable job with that team. They are the best defensive team by far in the league. They are tough, they rebound the basketball. It is going to be a really tough environment to play in but our guys will get excited. We’ll rest tomorrow. We’ll prepare and get ready to go.”
Perri is now 4-1 in NEC Tournament play as LIU Brooklyn head coach and will look continue this run on Saturday afternoon at 4pm in Staten Island.
LIU just have to continue their one game at a time mentality and stay within their principles. LIU, in ways, go into Wagner with not much to lose. The pressure will be on Bashir Mason’s team as the top seed to hold serve. LIU can run and let it fly and put the pressure on Wagner and see what happens. A fast and loose Blackbirds squad could be very dangerous.