No matter if it’s a Battle of Brooklyn game or the non-Battle of Brooklyn game, no matter the teams record going in, the games between LIU Brooklyn and St. Francis Brooklyn are almost always tough battles and on Saturday at the Steinberg Wellness Center, it was no exception.
The Blackbirds closed the game on a 13-4 run and erased a four-point deficit with over five minutes left to play to defeat St. Francis Brooklyn 63-58 in the first of two meetings between the two Brooklyn schools.
“These games are always fun afterward especially after a win.” LIU head coach Jack Perri said after the game. “We had to grind it out and we did.”
LIU Brooklyn got much-needed big games from their three upperclassmen starters in senior Iverson Fleming, redshirt senior Jerome Frink and redshirt junior Nura Zanna as the three each finished with double-doubles to help lead the way for the Blackbirds.
Fleming, who made the biggest shot in the game, a driving layup from the right corner just before the shot clock expired with thirty seconds remaining to put LIU up five, finished with 16 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. His previous high rebounding was seven back in his freshman season.
“In practice, we do all this stuff. Rebound drills, (working on) defense for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes,” Fleming said. “It’s normal to us now and I think we are catching on to it big time and that’s what we are going to have to do to keep going forward in the conference.”
Frink collected his eighth double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Zanna finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for his NEC-leading tenth double-double of the season and his fourth double-double game in a row.
The last time LIU had three players finished with a double-double in the same game was back on February 24, 2014, in which Joel Hernandez, E.J. Reed, and Jason Brickman all had a double-double. This was the third time since 2010 in which LIU has had three players finish with a double-double in the same game. No other NEC team with the exception of Sacred Heart who did it once last season has done it since 2010.
The first half was similar to how we saw LIU play against CCSU Thursday night. An ugly shooting, low scoring half in which LIU was held to 23 points and 37.5 percent shooting.
St. Francis Brooklyn’s defense came out to play in the first half, making things difficult for the Blackbirds on the perimeter and forcing LIU to turn the ball over eleven times.
The Terriers continued to stay in it in the second half mostly due to the outstanding play of freshman guard Rasheem Dunn who scored 18 of his game-high 21 points in the second twenty minutes.
St. Francis Brooklyn took their biggest lead of the game after Glenn Sanabria hit his only shot of the game, a three-pointer, to put the Terriers up four with 5:06 to play.
LIU answered with a 9-0 run capped by a three-point possession in which Zanna missed his second free throw after making his first and grabbing his miss and sticking it back up and in to put LIU five with 1:18 left. Then came Fleming’s clutch heroics to cement the win for LIU.
“He did it on purpose,” said Perri jokingly of Zanna’s three-point possession. “That was a big play.”
Besides Dunn, the Terriers’ got 16 points from Yunus Hopkinson on 6 for 21 from the floor. Sanabria had an awful game shooting the ball as he was held to 1 of 13 from the field for just three points in 35 minutes. After the game, St. Francis Brooklyn head coach Glenn Braica said Sanabria played with a bad foot.
“The kid Dunn made some great plays and we struggled guarding him.” said Perri. “Give a lot of credit to St. Francis, they came in here and they had a good gameplan. They did a good job of ball screen defense and really frustrated Jerome (Frink) in the first half and got us out of whack a little bit.”
LIU also got 12 points from Jashaun Agosto and another good game from Raiquan Clark who finished with four points, six rebounds and two big-time blocked shots that were sent sailing into the stands.
The win for LIU gives them five straight wins after dropping their NEC opener in heartbreaking fashion versus Mount St. Mary’s. The Blackbirds stay on pace with Fairleigh Dickinson who defeated CCSU and Mount St. Mary’s who won against Saint Francis U at the top of the NEC standings after three weeks of conference games at 5-1.
Next week is a huge litmus test for the LIU as they will see Wagner (3-3) at home and then head to Jersey to take on FDU (5-1). Wagner and FDU were the two preseason NEC favorites so the Blackbirds will need to prepare and bring their A-game for what will likely be two tough, competitive games that will feature contrasting styles.