The entire LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball team came out in warmups with white headbands on. The same headbands redshirt senior Jerome Frink wears for most games during the season.
The team did it in support of their co-captain who on Monday lost his father to a sudden heart attack that ultimately claimed his life.
Frink with a heavy heart decided to play Thursday night while dealing with the shocking and sudden loss in his life.
But it was Robert Morris who had lost three straight and desperately looking for a win that made more plays than LIU in defeating the Blackbirds 67-63 at the Steinberg Wellness Center Thursday night in front of a crowd of 687 in attendance.
“This was a really emotional day for him,” Perri said. “He has been with his family the last few days. He hasn’t eaten, he hasn’t slept. You can just tell his face is just puffy. He is a warrior. He is a wonderful kid. He is from a wonderful family. My heart just goes out to him and his family and for him to even play today, I don’t know if I could have even done that…He wanted to play. I think his mom wanted him to play. His mom is a strong woman. I think she probably wanted to him to play also.”
Frink scored LIU’s first points of the game and even with the lack of practice and clear emotion he was wearing on his face at the start, he was preparing himself to have a big game for his dad. He scored nine points in the first half before getting called for a second foul with 7:46 left in the half and had to sit out the rest of the way.
Robert Morris got off to a 10-3 lead before LIU finally settled in and got back in the game, eventually taken the lead before Isaiah Still knocked in a three 19 seconds before halftime to put RMU ahead by two at the break.
It would be a seesaw second half in which the lead would switch hands seven times before a three-pointer by RMU sophomore Matty McConnell gave RMU back the lead with 4:55 left that RMU would eventually hold on to the finish.
LIU had their chances at the close of this one. First, with LIU down three and 47 seconds left, Frink missed a layup in the paint he makes nine out of ten times. Isaiah Still made one of two from the line to put RMU up four and then Iverson Fleming hit a big three to get them within a point with 16 seconds left.
Still once again went 1 of 2 from the free throw line and it gave LIU a chance to either tie or take the lead on their final possession. Fleming missed a mid-range jumper that would have tied the game and RMU freshman Dachon Burke closed the door on the game with a pair of free throws for the final score.
“We certainly did (have our chances),” Perri said. “We had no timeouts too. We used our timeouts. I think we needed to use those timeouts. We didn’t get a great shot down the stretch. I know Iverson just made a shot (the possession before) and he drove maybe looking to get a foul and ended up shooting the floater that came up short.”
For the second straight game, LIU had their problems from the free throw line going 12 for 23, one game after going 9 for 24 from the charity stripe in the loss to CCSU last Saturday. Until these last two games, LIU had been one of the better free throw shooting teams in the NEC but going through a terrible free throw shooting slump at the moment that could be said has cost them two games that they probably should have been won.
“It was the second time in a row in which he didn’t shoot our free throws very well. It is more of a mental block than anything else.” Perri said. “We were one of the better free-throw shooting teams (in the NEC), in the mid-seventies. Last game we had all the right free throw shooters shooting. I know Zanna missed four today but everyone else missed a few and that can’t happen. Those guys got to do a better job and get back in the gym. I think it is a mental thing. They are all good free throw shooters, they just to continue to get back in the gym and focus on making them and not make it a habit.”
Frink channeled his emotions to a game-high 22 points on 9 of 19 shooting and also grabbed eight rebounds. In light of what he and his family were dealing with, he played as good as anyone could have expected. You could see it in his eyes and face after the game that it hurt that he couldn’t pull this win out for his late father.
Fleming finished with 15 points on just 4 of 13 shooting but was 4 of 6 from three. Nura Zanna finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Jashaun Agosto played the entire game with a facemask to protect a possible broken nose he suffered in practice during the week and it greatly affected his game. He played just 28 minutes due to foul trouble and scored just five points and had no assists.
“He might have broken his nose,” Perri said on Agosto’s injury. “Don’t kid yourself that played a part in why he struggled today. He was really frustrated. He just can’t see with that thing. He was like ‘I need to take this thing off’. We don’t know if his nose is broken or if it is not. We got to figure something out because he either needs a different kind of mask or something he feels more comfortable with because he had very little impact on this game and that is not usually the case with him.”
RMU got 21 points from sophomore guard Isaiah Still and 15 points from senior point guard Kavon Stewart who went 11 for 13 from the foul line. Stewart did not play due to suspension in the first meeting between the two teams at Moon Township back in January. Matty McConnell scored ten as RMU are now 4-7 in the NEC.
The Blackbirds with the loss have dropped three of their last four games and now 7-4 in the NEC and have now fallen to a tie for third-place with SFU who are also 7-4 as they head into their matchup Saturday afternoon at the Steinberg Wellness Center.
LIU is now three games back to surging Mount St. Mary’s who are now 10-1 and are beginning to run away with first-place in the NEC standings. FDU lost Thursday night to Sacred Heart so they remain one game ahead of LIU and SFU for second-place.
The Blackbirds are going to have to start turning things back around if they want to hold on to a top-four spot in the standings and make a run at trying to get back into the top two spots which would mean a possible home game in the NEC tournament semifinals.
With just seven more regular-season games left to play, LIU has to find the form which saw they get off to that 6-1 start in NEC play or else they could see themselves potentially going on the road for the NEC tournament, a prospect not many people expected just a couple of weeks ago.