LIU Brooklyn will enter next week’s NEC men’s basketball tournament as the hottest team in the conference as Blackbirds earned their toughest two-game road sweep of the season, winning at both Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner, thus entering the postseason on a six-game win streak.
LIU started the week two games behind Mount St. Mary’s for the top-seed and would need to win at one of the tougher road gyms in the conference if they wanted any shot at taking away that one-seed from the Mountaineers.
The Blackbirds fell behind by as much as ten right off the tip as Mount led 12-2 barely six minutes in. Sophomore guard Raul Frias would make a pair of threes on back-to-back LIU possessions to stymie the Mount momentum and steady the game for them.
Mount would later get the lead back up to nine before LIU would start getting going on offense led by senior guard Iverson Fleming.
Fleming would score seven of LIU’s final 16 points of the first half to close to within one of the Mount at the break. LIU outscored the Mount 16-8 over the final nine minutes of the half.
Mount would increase their lead up to five on multiple occasions in the second half and lead by five with 5:39 left to play after a Mawdo Sallah layup.
Yet, LIU wouldn’t let up. Jerome Frink hit a pair of free throws to get things going. Then Raiquan Clark who has excelled of late hit a layup. Next, Iverson Fleming scored on the fastbreak and suddenly LIU was up one. LIU used a 9-0 run in a span of 2:19 to go up 56-52 with 2:20 left.
The play of the game came when Iverson Fleming with 12 second left on the shot clock and 21 seconds left in the game and LIU ahead by just two, went one-on-one against Mount’s best defender in Chris Wray and beat him off the dribble to get into the paint and finished with a left-handed scoop shot over Wray’s extended arm to put LIU ahead by four with 13 seconds left.
A pair of Julius van Sauers free throws iced the win and LIU left Knott Arena with a well-earned 62-58 win on the road.
Iverson Fleming finished with 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting. Nura Zanna finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season.
Jerome Frink played 24 minutes due to foul trouble and finished with eight points but Frink did reach 1000 points in his LIU Brooklyn career with a jumper at the 8:29 mark of the second half. Frink became the 34th LIU player to reach 1000 points at LIU.
LIU out-rebounded Mount St. Mary’s 39-29 and Mount also hurt themselves on the free throw line going just 5 of 14 from the stripe. Miles Wilson led Mount with 11 points.
With the win, LIU moved within one game of Mount for the NEC regular season title but would need help if they were to get that number one seed. Mount needed to lose to last-place St. Francis Brooklyn plus LIU needed a win by Fairleigh Dickinson on the road at Saint Francis U. to grab the top-seed from the hands of the Mount.
Unfortunately, the drama of the final regular season game day ended before their game against Wagner Saturday afternoon even started.
With FDU and SFU tipping off at 1 pm, LIU would learn that Mount would clinch the top seed in the NEC tournament due to SFU beating FDU.
Now, the best LIU could do was get to win #20 and get a share of the NEC regular-season title with the Mount even if it meant they would have to settle for the two-seed in next week’s NEC tournament.
“All we said is listen, we can’t focus on that stuff.” LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri said. “If you want a chance to have a part of the championship, you have to do your job and you have to focus on this game and focus on winning this one.”
Inside a raucous Spiro Sports Center on Senior Day Saturday afternoon, once again LIU would fall behind in the first half, this time by as much as eight after Wagner’s JoJo Cooper knocked down a triple to make it a 27-16 game with 7:47 left in the first.
From then on, LIU would get themselves back in it. The Blackbirds would outscore Wagner 15-9 to close the first half to go down 40-38 at the break.
Right before the half, it looked like freshman guard Julian Batts injured himself although it was hard to tell exactly when and how he got hurt but he was seen having to be carried by a pair of his teammate back to the locker room and he did not return to the game after halftime. It is unknown what his injury is or if he will miss any games of the NEC tournament. We’ll probably know more in the upcoming days.
Wagner came out firing to start the second half and build a 12-point lead at 56-44 and you wouldn’t have been all that upset if LIU decided to just shut things down and get out of there and get ready for the NEC tournament quarterfinal Wednesday night.
But LIU kept playing and went to the zone and that seem to turn the tide in LIU’s favor as they started making shots and getting stops.
First Fleming and then Frink would hit shots and then Fleming once again with a jumper. Clark would make one of two at the free-throw line and LIU was quickly within five.
Later following a three-point play by Wagner’s Corey Henson to make it an eight-point game, LIU would go on a 10-0 run to take a two-point lead with 2:31 left.
After a three made by Henson to put Wagner ahead by two with 1:25 remaining, Wagner would foul Fleming and he would split a pair of free throws to get LIU within one. Then after a Cooper miss from three for Wagner, Zanna would get fouled with 27 seconds left and he would split a pair of free throws to tie it at 73.
Wagner would get one last look in regulation as Henson missed a jumper and then later Fleming would miss on a heave at the buzzer which hit back iron to send this wild one into overtime.
In overtime, LIU would get the early jump on Wagner and go ahead by five with 1:09 left. Wagner would cut to within three after a pair of Conor Ferrell free throws and then Julius van Sauers would throw the ball away to Henson and he would lay it up to get Wagner to within one.
Once again, Iverson Fleming came up clutch with a huge three to put LIU ahead by four with 26 seconds left and eventually they would seal the victory at the free throw line making all four of their final free throws to defeat the Seahawks 88-84 in overtime.
“It has been a good few weeks,” Perri said. “Our guys have really been resilient especially this past week. Those were two really tough environments to play in. Our guys just stayed with it. That has so much to do it with our seniors. They get it, they have really gotten it. They haven’t lost their poise. We always talk about poise, we talk about it every year. Some groups have better poise than others and up until this point, this group has been really poised and resilient. We certainly showed that today.”
Jerome Frink finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season. Jashaun Agosto finished with 12 points and seven assists. Nura Zanna went for 11 points and six rebounds.
Iverson Fleming continued his big week and his run of strong play with 23 points including a couple of huge clutch three in the overtime period to help LIU sweep the season series from Wagner.
“What else can you say, he has been that good,” Perri said of Fleming’s recent outstanding play. “He has been that locked in. He did it at Mount also. He such a competitive kid on game days, it is amazing. Sometimes you have to calm him down a little bit but at the same time, you have to live with some of his aggressiveness because he is such a confident kid. He has been tremendous and has been a huge part of our success.”
Raiquan Clark, this past week’s NEC Player of the Week, continued his solid run of play with his first career double-double, 12 points, and 12 rebounds. Clark has now emerged as LIU’s sixth man off the bench.
“It all started after the Bryant game (0 points, 1 rebound in 10 minutes), he was just in a weird funk,” Perri said of Clark. “He just wasn’t playing with the same energy he had been playing with every day in practice. I sat him down and told him this is what you are, don’t worry about your minutes because your minutes go up if you do what I’m asking you to do. It was more about verifying his role and making sure he understood that. Since then he has taken that and just ran with it. His minutes has gone higher, higher and higher and he has been so effective. What he does is that he just plays so hard and he attacks that offensive glass like nobody else and he finishes around the basket. He has been great.”
Wagner got a strong game from Michael Carey who finished with 24 points and eight rebounds. Corey Henson went for a game-high 25 points in the loss. Wagner finished the season as the three-seed for the NEC tournament and will host FDU Wednesday night.
With the victory, LIU Brooklyn reached 20 wins for the first time since the 2012-13 season and the first time they reached 20 regular season wins since the 2011-12 season.
“It was interesting,” Perri said of their two meetings with RMU this season. “They didn’t have Kavon Stewart in the first game at their place. At our place, that was right after Jerome’s father passed away and we didn’t have him in practice before that game and Jashaun Agosto had the mask on so he was a mess that whole game. So neither of us have had our full complement of players. They kind of figured out how they need to play and it is going to be a difficult challenge. Andy Toole is an awesome coach. He does a great job. They are going to play defense and they are going to defend you and they are going to compete at a high level. It is going to be a major challenge for us. It certainly not going to be any gimmes. We are going to have to prepare. We are going to have to play well on Wednesday if we want to advance.”
Here are the complete NEC tournament quarterfinal matchups:
It should be a loud and excited atmosphere at the Steinberg Wellness Center Wednesday night. Time for the fans to get out and really lend their support to this team. Robert Morris is never an easy game especially in the NEC tournament so this one will likely be a nailbiter. It should be fun. Time to enjoy and get ready for the best month of sports.