LIU Brooklyn were looking to do something that the program hasn’t done in over 30 years. That was start their season 2-0 in back-to-back seasons and in order to do that they were going to have to do it without the services one of their leaders, senior guard Joel Hernandez.
Behind the stellar performances of Iverson Fleming, Jerome Frink and Jashaun Agosto, LIU was able to break their 30-plus year drought with a thrilling although foul-filled 65-61 win over Loyola (Md.) Wednesday night at the Barclays Center.
Before the game, we learned that Hernandez will in fact miss the rest of the 2016-17 season as he will require to have surgery on his injured right thumb that was dislocated during the John Jay game on Friday night. Hernandez will redshirt and keep his final year of eligibility for next season.
Without Hernandez, LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri had to begin figuring out how to move on with the season without one of his two selected co-captains.
Perri started sophomore Raul Frias in Hernandez’s place but the guys who really stepped up in his absence were Fleming and Agosto.
Fleming, one of Hernandez’s closest friends on the LIU team, played like a man who was not going to be denied of a victory. He, along with fellow senior forward Jerome Frink, finished with 16 points to led the Blackbirds to the win.
“He just had such a will to win, like he wasn’t going to let us lose. I was really proud of him for that.” said Perri of Fleming.
“With Joel going down, everybody has to step up including myself and that is what I look to do. Tonight we came out with a tough win.” said Fleming. “The mood (before the game) has been good. Joel has been great, going down with his injury. I know it has been tough on him but he has been a great leader to still cheer us on on the bench and just having his voice out there was a major key for us.”
Freshman point guard Jashaun Agosto, in just his second collegiate game, played like four-year starter at times and was incredibly impressive especially on several of his drives to the rim.
Agosto finished with 12 points in 27 minutes but he committed just one turnover and made several keys plays during what a very tight second half including taking some major contact to draw fouls in the paint.
“Jashaun came in and played like an upperclassmen. He has done that in practice so I felt good about that coming in.” said Perri of his freshman starting point guard.
Moving forward, Perri has to try and figure out his rotation without Hernandez. Perri had to go deep into his bench once again, this time out of necessity with all the fouls LIU was committing. At times, he had to play a lineup of guys who you would have never expected to see on the floor together.
Raiquan Clark, the 6’6′ sophomore preferred walk-on, earned himself some more playing with a solid eight point, four rebound game in his fifteen minutes off the bench.
“We are going to have to figure this out.” said Perri of his rotation. “We have a lot of guys that haven’t played before. We started with Raul because he has been pretty consistent in practice and he is also is a shot maker, so that opens things up for Nura (Zanna) and (Frink) inside so I thought he gave us good minutes even though he didn’t make many shots. Playing (Julian) Batts and Jashaun together, two freshman, I think once Julian got past some jitters he was fine, he did some good things in the second half, you’ll see that, he’ll be much better. Raquian Clark, he is a tough dude. He is more like Joel Hernandez and he is going to give us some good minutes.”
“I was a little shocked but I know that they can do it.” said Fleming of his younger teammates. “I expect them to do good because they have been showing it throughout the fall and up until now.”
LIU held Loyola (Md.) to 31 percent shooting in the game and only allowed the Greyhounds to shoot 3 of 17 from the three point line even though they did allow them to shoot 33 free throws. LIU held Loyola (Md.) to .97 points per possession.
“We held them to 31 percent and 17 percent (from three). I think our effort was there especially with some young guys. We going to need that.” said Perri.
Loyola’s Andre Walker finished with a game-high 21 points and Jarred Jones scored thirteen but it is the two points that he didn’t make that will give him a restless bus ride home to Maryland. Jones missed a bunny layup with no one around him that would have tied the game at 63 with eleven second remaining.
“It’s a big win.” said Perri. “The unknown of all of a sudden Joel is out, now guys that you feel good about in practice but you don’t know in an environment like this. I was just so proud.”
The Blackbirds now head on the road for their next seven games beginning on Saturday where they head up to Boston to play in Boston University’s Steven Wright Classic in which they will play three games in three days over the weekend.
LIU has a chance to start 3-0 for the second straight season. If they continue to get team efforts like tonight, this could make for at least for a very interesting season in Downtown Brooklyn.