Yes, it is only the second game of the Northeast Conference season but with a looming trip to Western Pennsylvania to face Robert Morris and St. Francis U. next weekend, it was a big game for LIU Brooklyn to try and get at home against Bryant Saturday afternoon.
The Blackbirds got a huge boost from starting point guard Jashaun Agosto after he missed Thursday’s heartbreaking loss to Mount St. Mary’s and along with another double-double from senior forward Jerome Frink, LIU Brooklyn built a 17-point halftime lead and would go on to beat Bryant 74-63 to even their NEC record at 1-1 and snap a four-game losing streak in the process.
Agosto was a question mark whether he would be available against Bryant after injuring his knee during Wednesday’s practice and not being able to play Thursday against Mount St. Mary’s.
Agosto proved he was ready to go and play one of his best games of the season as he just missed getting his first double-double of the season with 17 points and dishing out a career-high nine assists against no turnovers while playing 35 minutes.
The freshman point guard showed no ill effect of his injury as he ran the LIU offense and put on several dribble moves on his freshman counterpart for Bryant, Ikenna Ndugba, as well sophomore guard Hunter Ware as he outscored the two combined 17 to 9.
“He controlled the game. He controlled the tempo,” said LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri in his postgame interview with LIU Brooklyn play-by-play announcer Ray Martel on NEC Front Row. “They could not guard him. He was able to penetrate especially in the second half when they went man-to-man. He was able to get into the lane at will. He was really doing a good job of seeing out and making sure he got some guys the ball with nine assists. That is a great effort by him.”
The Blackbirds also got a stellar performance from co-captain Jerome Frink who got his fifth double-double of the season in the first half and finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds.
Frink went 9 of 16 from the field as Bryant as he was able to roam much more freely down low without a constant double-team hounding him like in the prior game against Mount St. Mary’s on Thursday.
Also, Frink was able to drain three three-pointers which were a season-high for him and a part of his game that he is capable of doing but has struggled with for the most part this season. Prior to this game, he had not made a single three since the St. John’s upset win five games ago.
“(Frink) is our horse. He is our best player, it is not even close,” Perri said. “He has been dynamic through the course of the year already. Last game, obviously he got doubled and had to kick it out quite a bit. Today against the zone he got himself going. And then we usually win when he is able to make threes and he made three of them today.”
The Blackbirds used a strong first half in which they put up 48 points on Bryant on nearly 52 percent shooting from the field and finished with 1.14 points per possession while making 8 of 14 threes.
Bryant got 23 points from sophomore sensation Nisre Zouzoua and 12 points from freshman guard Adam Grant. Junior forward Gus Riley, who has been starting of late over senior forward Dan Garvin, was getting eaten up by the LIU bigs as he finished 0 for 7 shooting and held to one point from the free throw line. Garvin came off the bench to contribute just five points in 30 minutes as he was held to 2 of 7 shooting. Bryant leaves Brooklyn going 0-2 to start their NEC campaign.
“We haven’t been consistent,” Perri said of their defense. “In first halves, we have been really good. We just talked about it yesterday where second halves we fouled too much. We have gotten a little lackadaisical and I think today was a lot better effort in the second half.”
Unfortunately for LIU Brooklyn, there was an ugly moment in the second half in which redshirt junior forward Nura Zanna, who has been playing his best basketball of his LIU career of late and coming off probably his best game as a Blackbird against the Mount, was called for an offensive foul at the 17:26 mark of the half while battling down low with Gus Riley. He said something to the official as he was walking by and was hit with a technical foul. He continued on with words to the official as his teammates and then head coach Jack Perri tried to calm him down to keep him in the game to no avail as would get hit with a second technical foul from another official and would be ejected from the game.
After the second technical, Perri was trying to get Zanna away from the officials and started pushing his head coach away multiple times and could be heard saying something to the effect of “don’t push me” before eventually heading straight to the LIU Brooklyn locker room.
Zanna who has a history of being foul-prone and picking up silly fouls in games has been doing a better job of controlling both his fouling and his emotions in the last several games in which in return has seen his game really take off but for some reason, he just momentarily snapped and lost control.
“I have no idea (why he snapped),” Perri said. “I have never seen him do anything like that. Obviously, he was frustrated about something. We’ll figure out what happened because, to be honest, I have no idea. We’ll talk to him in the locker room and figure it out.”
Zanna left the game with six points and three rebounds. He will likely miss the Robert Morris game on Thursday as he will likely have to serve a one-game suspension for getting himself ejected from the game.
Iverson Fleming finished with 13 points. Julian Batts got his second straight start but went 0 for 3 with three assists and one turnover. Julius van Sauers came off the bench and made a pair of threes and finished with seven points and seven rebounds including five offensive rebounds.
The win versus Bryant snaps LIU’s four-game losing streak and even their NEC record at 1-1 as they head to Robert Morris and St. Francis U. next week. Jack Perri is happy to get the Western Pennsylvania out of the way early.
“Once we get (done with) that, we don’t have to travel and stay for a whole weekend anywhere. We’re excited about the opportunity to go out to Pennsylvania and seeing Robert Morris.”
LIU Brooklyn is now 8-7 for the season and is in a four-team mix of teams who also started NEC play with Mount St. Mary’s, FDU and surprisingly, St. Francis Brooklyn all starting 2-0 to move out in front after the opening week of conference games.