With just three weeks remaining in the NEC season and LIU Brooklyn in the midst of a three-game slide and having losing four of their last five games, the Blackbirds desperately needed to begin to reverse the trend and get back to their winning ways that had experienced during the first half of conference play.
If LIU wanted to make a run at one of the two top seeds for the upcoming NEC tournament, they had to start finding a way to get a pair of wins to begin what is a challenging final six-game stretch to close out NEC play.
The Blackbirds were able to do just that by defeating Bryant on the road 88-85 in overtime and then two days later, getting a very important home win against a team LIU was trying to catch in the NEC standings in Fairleigh Dickinson with a 75-69 victory.
On Thursday, LIU got back Jerome Frink, who missed the loss at home against Saint Francis U. last Saturday to be with his family after the sudden loss of his father a few days earlier.
Frink who had played a week earlier just after his father’s passing and had a tremendous game under difficult circumstances in LIU’s loss to Robert Morris, was determined to get LIU back on track and get a win for his late father against Bryant Thursday night.
Frink had a game to remember for the rest of his life as the redshirt senior poured in a career-high tying 30 points to go along with ten rebounds to earn his twelveth double-double of the season.
The Blackbirds’ starting five scored 80 of their 84 points with three players scoring 20 or more points. Iverson Fleming finished with 24 points and hit the game-winning three with fourteen seconds remaining in overtime to give LIU the victory. Jashaun Agosto finished with 20 points including 3 of 4 shooting from deep. Nura Zanna also collected his twelveth double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Blackbirds gave up a three-point lead with 48 seconds left in regulation and gave Bryant’s Nisre Zouzoua a chance to take the lead with a pair of free throws with nine seconds left but Zouzoua missed the front end, giving LIU a shot to win it in regulation.
LIU head coach Jack Perri called a timeout with 7.5 seconds left and designed a play for Frink. Frink went one-on-one against Bryant’s Marcel Pettway and it appears as if Pettway fouled Frink as he was going up for his shot causing Frink to lose the ball and no whistle was called. Both Frink and Perri couldn’t believe there was no whistle on the play. Perri was so infuriated, he raced onto the court screaming at the official near the play and had to be restrained by his coaching staff. It was likely the angriest I have ever seen Jack Perri in his years as LIU head coach. Fortunately, for Perri and LIU, Fleming’s heroics in overtime bailed them out.
Bryant got a career-high 26 points from Bosko Kostur and 16 points from NEC leading scorer Nisre Zouzoua who was held under his 20 points per game scoring average. The Bulldogs dropped to 8-18 overall and 5-8 in the NEC while LIU advanced to 15-11 overall and 8-5 in the NEC.
Less than 48 hours later, the Blackbirds returned home to Brooklyn for a huge matchup against second-place Fairleigh Dickinson who beat up on LIU Brooklyn back on January 21st in Hackensack, NJ.
The Knights would go without their leading scorer in junior guard Darian Anderson who injured himself in the prior game against Central Connecticut State and would miss his first game of his college career after playing in 86 straight games.
FDU sophomore guard Darnell Edge would pick up the scoring slack for the Knights without Anderson as he would pour in a season-high 19 points on 8 of 13 shooting.
Yet, one game after the LIU bench scored just four points in the win against Bryant, the Blackbirds’ second unit had one of their better games in quite a while collectively as LIU got 28 bench points including 12 points from sophomore Raiquan Clark.
LIU got up by as much as 14 points in the first half mostly due to hot perimeter shooting from sophomore Raul Frias who scored all eight of his points in a span of just over five minutes, burying three of four of his jumpers.
“They were huge,” said Perri. “They all gave us very productive minutes coming off the bench. Raul (Frais) obviously shot big in the first half. Ganlandou (Cisse) gave us some defensive rebounding, I was really happy with him. Raiquan (Clark) making his free throws, being active on the glass and defending and Julius van Sauers comes in and makes big free throws down the stretch and did some really good things. So I was very happy with all those guys coming off the bench.”
FDU would respond late in the half and Earl Potts Jr. nearly banked in a three-quarter court heave at the end of the half yet LIU enjoyed a seven-point advantage at the break.
The Knights would carry their momentum into the second half and eventually take a one-point lead with following an Edge layup. LIU would then respond with a 13-4 run to regain control but the Knight would not quit as a 9-1 FDU run tied the game up at 57 with 7:32 remaining.
LIU would outscore FDU 20-12 the rest of the way including making six straight critical free throws inside the final minute to help secure a huge victory.
The Blackbirds got balanced scoring as four players finished in double-figures led by Iverson Fleming’s 13 points. LIU went to the free throw line 33 times, converting on 22 of those to just fourteen trips to the charity stripe for the Knights. LIU in the second half alone went to the line 30 times.
“We really wanted to win this one for a lot of different reasons,” Perri said after the FDU win. “FDU beat us pretty good at their place. Obviously, they are one game ahead of us in the standings. We wanted to make a move and go up instead of going backward. We talked about all those things. Any way to find a way to get a win in this game was going to be important and our guys stepped up.”
It was a huge win for LIU. Not only with the win did they stamped their ticket to the NEC tournament in just three weeks time but they also reach a tie with the Knights for second place in the NEC standings at 9-5 with still an outside chance of getting the one-seed currently held by Mount St. Mary’s who are three games ahead with four games left in the regular season.
The win also gave LIU their 16th win of the season which matches their win total of last season and still gives them a chance at 20 regular season wins if they can win out the rest of the way.
The Blackbirds needs to carry the momentum of this big 2-0 week to two more important games coming up this coming week with the Battle of Brooklyn at St. Francis Brooklyn in a nationally-televised game Wednesday night and then a clash against the suddenly-hot Sacred Heart Pioneers on Senior Day next Saturday afternoon in another televised game.
At this point of the season, with what is at stake each and every game down the stretch, there are no margins for error. Every game is big and now would be a good time for LIU to get back on the same kind of roll they started NEC play with.