For LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball, their non-conference schedule had been a tale of two months.
After a fast 6-1 start to their season in the month of November, the Blackbirds have struggled in the month of December and things didn’t get any better Wednesday night as they were defeated by the Niagara Purple Eagles on the Brooklyn Nets’ Barclays Center floor, 75-66, and dropped their third straight game and five out of their last six.
The only saving grace out of the month of December, the upset victory over St. John’s at Barclays back on December 11th. Things would be even worse if it wasn’t for that.
After a pretty even first half which saw Niagara up by just two at halftime, Niagara turned it up defensively in the second half and got the three-point shot working as they held LIU to 34 percent from the field in the final twenty minutes and made four of seven three-pointers and took that two-point lead into a twelve-point lead that a tired LIU team couldn’t recover from.
“We had a really good November and we did not have a good December besides the St. John’s win,” said LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri. “Now, let’s understand why. We got to get back to defending. We defended in November and we are not defending in December. We are not committed enough defensively.
LIU were badly out-rebounded by the Purple Eagles 47 to 32 and also had a tough time for the three-point line once again going 3 for 16 and were 0 for 9 from deep in the second half.
“We got punked on the glass. The effort was not there on the glass,” Perri said. “It wasn’t what I’m used to seeing from this team.”
Niagara gave LIU’s leading scorer and rebounder, senior forward Jerome Frink, even in a double-double effort, a tough time as they held him to 12 points on 5 of 21 from the field to go along with his 13 rebounds.
It seems like the long stretch of tough games and travel and the addition of the LIU players dealing with finals before Christmas break was too much to overcome in the last week or so.
“This was a tough stretch. There has been no break,” Perri said. “It’s been travel, practice, prepare, game. It’s been consistent. Now you throw in finals. You can tell finals played a factor in today for Jerome. He had three finals today. The last two days with what Jerome has been doing, I can see that this had a lot to do with his game and his frustration. Obviously, no excuse because they have been dealing with the same thing.”
Adding to Frink frustration was the defensive play of Niagara on him including the play of 6’8” forward Dominic Robb who blocked seven shots including blocking a few of Frink’s shot in the paint. Niagara had ten blocks as a team, the most against LIU this season.
Also, since the calendar turned to December, the loss of Joel Hernandez that wasn’t felt in November as they were winning, has been greatly felt in this month as the losses have been piling up.
Perri started with sophomore Raul Frias in Hernandez’s spot in the starting lineup. Although LIU was winning early on with Frias in the starting five, Frias didn’t take hold of the spot. Next, redshirt freshman Julius van Sauers has started since the St. John’s game. He hasn’t done much with the opportunity either.
Perri has given minutes to Frias, van Sauers, senior Iverson Fleming, sophomore Raiquan Clark, freshman Ashtyn Bradley at the three spot to see what works and really no one has played well enough to take over and run away with that spot.
“I’m getting no consistency out of our bench,” lamented Perri. “The Joel Hernandez three spot that is still just, who is going to take it? Who wants it? And I don’t care who it is. I’ll play three small guys. I’ll play (Julian) Batts if he wants to take it if Raiquan (Clark) wants to take it if Ashtyn (Bradley) wants to it. I don’t care. I want somebody to play with some sense of urgency and some consistency. They are all young. None of them have any experience. Between Frias, Batts, Clark, Bradley, and Julius, none of them have any experience, this is their first year of that for them so maybe they need to keep trying to figure it out.”
Perri played six players off this bench and in a combined fifty minutes, they scored just ten points between them, going 4 for 12 and 2 for 5 from three.
Jashaun Agosto was LIU’s best player on this night as he finished with 14 points on 7 of 13 shooting, as he did a great job penetration and getting into the paint and making layups.
Nura Zanna had a strong game from the field, going 6 of 8 and scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He did though commit four turnovers to lead LIU in that category.
Iverson Fleming led LIU in scoring with 15 points but he was just 4 for 14 from the field and 1 of 6 from deep.
Niagara got 14 points each from Brooklyn native Matt Scott and Chris Barton and 13 points from Marvin Prochet as they finished up non-conference play at 4-9.
The LIU players and coaching staff now head off to a brief Christmas break beginning Thursday until Monday when they will begin preparation for next Thursday’s NEC opener at home against Mount St. Mary and follow up with a game at home against Bryant on New Year’s Eve.
For Perri, this break couldn’t come at a more perfect time for his team.
“They all need it. They’re mentally shot. They’re just fatigued,” Perri said. “We have about four or five guys that have been through it and then a bunch of guys that haven’t. These young guys need this break. Jashaun needs it. I think Julian Batts need it. All those guys need this break. Then boom, (December) 26 comes and were back at it preparing for Mount and we going to have a tough home stretch but we got to start taking care of business at home.”
Perri, his coaching staff, and his upperclassmen all know that the road to March begins in earnest on December 29 and that as good as November was and as bad as December has been, in a one-bid conference like the Northeast Conference, it is what happens from here on out that will truly decide their fate.
“I talked to the seniors about it, regardless what happens in (the last) two games, our focus has to be at this level and for us, we want to try and win the league,” Perri said.
For them to be a contender to win the NEC, they going to need to revert back to November LIU Brooklyn and turn things back around in a hurry.
This team could be a very good team when it is all said and done. They can also be a team that lets their mostly young and inexperienced roster keep their core veteran group from getting LIU back to the mountaintop of an NEC championship. Which way they decide to go will determine if which LIU we all saw this non-conference season was the true LIU Brooklyn team. The 6-1 November team or the 1-5 December team. Things are going to get very interesting, very, very soon.