It had been 86 years since LIU Brooklyn last hosted their in-city rivals from Queens and twenty years since LIU got to experience a victory over their Big East foes.
On Sunday, LIU with some clutch shot making from senior guard Iverson Fleming (21 points, 7/17 FG) got the biggest win of their non-conference season as the Blackbirds withstood a Shamorie Ponds’ last-second jumper to defeat St. John’s by the final of 74-73 at the Barclays Center.
LIU and St. John’s could not have been coming into this game in more opposite fashion. St. John’s were winners of three-straight and fresh off of two home wins including a 90-62 annihilation of Fordham Thursday night. LIU were coming off of two straight losses including an ugly 79-56 loss at a North Carolina Central.
The story coming in was the emergence of St. John’s freshman sensation Shamorie Ponds out of Brooklyn and his and St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin’s homecoming. But LIU Brooklyn was back home after 25 days away and with a bitter taste in their mouths after the NCCU drubbing didn’t care for giving St. John’s an easy time.
LIU got off to an 18-8 lead to start and fought through fifteen first-half fouls to go into the break tied at 42.
It looked like St. John’s was about to take control in the second half as the Red Storm outscored LIU 16-9 in the first seven minutes but a 9-0 LIU run helped the Blackbirds regain the lead and put St. John’s on upset alert.
In the final 94 seconds, it got nuts. St. John’s Federico Mussini canned a three from the corner which gave the Red Storm a four-point lead and it looked that was probably the dagger but Fleming started his heroics with a huge three near the top of the key to get LIU within one and then after a Ponds turnover, Fleming made the biggest of the game, a double-clutch bank shot from the side to put LIU ahead 74-73 with 26 seconds left.
St. John’s Federico Mussini canned a three from the corner which gave the Red Storm a four-point lead and it looked that was probably the dagger blow for the Blackbirds but Fleming started his heroics with a huge three near the top of the key to getting LIU within one and then after a Ponds turnover, Fleming made the biggest shot of the game, a double-clutch bank shot from the side to put LIU ahead 74-73 with 26 seconds left.
“It’s a mindset and our coach preaches to us to have ‘the will to win.’ That’s what I try to do every day I step on the court; have the will to win and to help my teammates as best as I can.” Fleming said. “At that point in time, I was just trying to be aggressive and get the best shot possible and it fell.”
The Blackbirds defense which played well especially in crunch time forced a Ponds turnover from a Nura Zanna steal in which LIU couldn’t corral and then forced another St. John’s turnover from Malik Ellison, once again the doing of Zanna.
Yet, LIU turned the ball over with 3.2 seconds left and St. John’s got one last look. Ponds jumper just missed and LIU got the victory twenty years in the making.
“Obviously that was an exciting game. Tremendous job by our guys.” said a joyous Jack Perri after the win. “I was just so proud of our guys. We really were able to sustain things pretty well to keep that game close…It’s such a huge win. It doesn’t compare to making the NCAA tournament when we won a championship to get there, but it definitely puts us in a place we want to be.”
It definitely wasn’t the homecoming that Chris Mullin and Shamorie Ponds had envisioned when they came into the Barclays Center.
“These things happen. I give all the credit to LIU.” Mullin said. “They took it to us from the start. They led 18-7 and pretty much control the whole game…We were very careless and nonchalant.”
“I feel like we didn’t carry the energy over that we had the last couple of games.” Ponds said. “I feel like we came out too nonchalant and flat…It was good coming back home. Mostly, I wanted to come out with a win. I feel like we were supposed to win this game.”
For the Blackbirds, it was a kind of game they really needed after the two losses at the end of the seven-game road trip and senior Jerome Frink (20 points, 12 rebounds, third double-double of the season) felt the need to come out of the gate strong against NYC’s team from the Big East.
“I was looking forward to this game because we were on the road and lost (our last two) games. We didn’t play as hard and I brought the team together and said, ‘we need this win.’ We just got through a tough stretch together and we came up with the win.”
Another key contributor was Zanna whose inconsistency due to foul trouble has hampered him this season. Zanna got his third double-double of the season, 13 points, and 11 rebounds after Perri had a heart-to-heart conversation with the 6’7” big man after the loss at NCCU last week.
“I had a conversation with him after the North Carolina Central game and we had a really good talk, where it is like you’ve had a few games where you double-double but you’re better than that,” Perri said of Zanna. “You’re better than the five and five’s. You’re too talented, you’re too big and strong. You’re too much of a problem for opposing guys. One, we got to keep him out of foul trouble and two, he just got to have that mindset. I think he has been more consistent in practice. I think that helps and if he can sustain that intensity day in and day out, you’re going to see that more of this more consistently.”
The other key yet underrated factor to the LIU victory was the play of freshman point guard Jashaun Agosto. Although, his stat line won’t blow anyone away, (10 points, two assists, 4/9 FGs), Agosto was a great orchestrator on the offensive end. He had LIU settled on offense and was disruptive enough on defense to hold Ponds to 6 of 16 shooting.
After two fouls in the first half, Perri put Agosto back in the game after LIU lost the early lead and he helped settle things back down for the Blackbirds in just of a couple of minutes to help LIU get to the break tied. Agosto didn’t come off the floor at all in the second half.
Sophomore Raiquan Clark has a huge second half for the Blackbirds especially after Julian van Sauers fouled out with 5:49 left to play. He finished with seven points and three rebounds in 19 minutes and had a big dunk in the closing minutes.
The upset win pushes LIU’s record to 7-3 and drops St. John’s to under .500 at 5-6.
LIU Brooklyn next heads back on the road for one last non-conference road game at Minnesota which was a game Perri scheduled for Jerome Frink to go against his former Florida International head coach Richard Pitino. After that, LIU returns back to Brooklyn to play their final two non-conference games as well as their first two NEC games last week of December.
After a win like this one, LIU probably won’t be seeing St. John’s in Brooklyn for another 86 years.