It was rivalry week. LIU Brooklyn and St. Francis (NY) had just met at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Now it was Sunday and the Blackbirds and Terriers were at it again. That's because NEC is the only conference in the nation that is crazy enough to make you play your rival twice in one week.
Unlike past seasons these games meant a lot too. Both teams were in the thick of the conference race. SFNY, like the rest of the NEC, was chasing first-place LIU for the second season in a row. The Blackbirds had just one conference loss.
Even though this game wasn't at MSG, it was still special. Crowds had packed WRAC for the Battle of Brooklyn. I decided to sit in the stands for the game just behind the basket. I was hoping for a different experience than being down on press row. Plus, then I could cheer for both teams. (Well, in my seat I probably had to be careful cheering for SFNY. The stands were divided into two camps and mine was definitely in the LIU section.)
The game started out normally enough. Runs from both sides were made and answered. Jalen Cannon and Julian Boyd, probably the best players for SFNY and LIU respectively, were both tagged with two fouls. Other key players, like Akeem Johnson and Jamal Olaswere took their place and dominated stretches of the game. SFNY forced 11 turnovers in the first half, but when LIU hung onto the ball there was no stopping the Blackbirds. They shot 16-24 in the first half as Boyd and Olaswere shot a perfect 14-14 from the field.
As the teams exited possibly the biggest battle of the day commenced. The dance teams for both teams were given the opportunity to perform. I don't think it was coincidence either that both teams performed to Beyonce's Girls (Run the World). The beat is a little funky. In the video that's linked Beyonce can really move, but that's Beyonce. Both dance teams acquitted themselves. (I don't consider myself qualified to judge who won.) It added a bit of levity to the whole situation.
Once they were done I furiously typed first half notes on the iPhone, definitely one of the trickiest parts of not being on press row. Also, a few SFNY fans came over to talk about what had happened in the first half and ask me for a second half prediction. Even though the Terriers were up 43-41 at the time I told them that I thought LIU was probably going to win. (Not a very bold prediction considering the Blackbirds haven't lost at home in 26 straight games.)
Early in the half it looked like I might be wrong. St. Francis jumped out to a seven-point lead right after the break. Then LIU swung things back the other way, getting the lead up to nine points with eight minutes to play. Nothing though comes easy in a rivalry game. The Blackbirds couldn't pull away. It never got to double-digits and just four minutes later the game was tied again. Then, with three minutes remaining Travis Nichols' three gave SFNY a five-point lead. Maybe they were going to do it? Not so fast. LIU went on an 11-3 run to close the game, including a jumper by Boyd with 18 seconds remaining, to give the Blackbirds the 81-78 victory.
Most of the people around the nation probably looked at the result and shrugged. It looked like another close win over an NEC team. But this win meant more. It was the Battle of Brooklyn. It was the second time in four days the Blackbirds had escaped the Terriers. They now had control of the NEC race (and would take advantage, winning the conference tournament at the WRAC to secure the automatic NCAA bid).
The game was everything you'd want a rivalry game to be. Both teams' best players came to play. Olasewere was named MVP after going a perfect 11-11 from the field and scoring 32 points. But the award could've just as easily gone to Boyd for his 20-point, 10-board, game-winning shot performance. If St. Francis had won Johnson (23 points, nine boards) or Nichols (12 points) would've had a case. The best players played their best on the brightest stage.
At that point it looked like there was a chance that LIU and St. Francis (NY) could meet one more time in the NEC title game. Both teams were playing excellent basketball. Unfortunately for the Terriers, injuries and struggles offensively down the stretch led to a home quarterfinals loss to Quinnipiac, preventing the possibility. I'm sure though they'll see each other soon. The intensity of rivalry week isn't quickly forgotten.
at LONG ISLAND 81, SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 78 02/12/2012
SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 13-12 (10-4) -- B. Mockford 4-12 3-4 14; S. Perunicic 3-11 0-0 8; A. Johnson 9-16 5-7 23; J. Newton 2-4 0-0 4; T. Nichols 5-7 0-0 12; J. Cannon 2-5 0-0 4; B. Jones 2-8 0-0 4; M. Milk 0-1 0-0 0; P. Santavenere 2-2 0-0 5; K. Douglas 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 31-68 8-11 78. LONG ISLAND 19-7 (13-1) -- J. Brickman 1-4 0-0 3; M. Culpo 1-6 1-1 3; C. Garner 4-9 7-8 15; J. Boyd 9-11 2-2 20; J. Olasewere 11-11 9-12 32; K. Onyechi 0-2 1-3 1; B. Thompson 2-6 0-2 6; B. Hucks 0-0 1-2 1; G. Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-49 21-30 81.
Three-point goals: SFNY 8-21 (J. Newton 0-2; S. Perunicic 2-8; B. Mockford 3-7; T. Nichols 2-3; P. Santavenere 1-1), LIU 4-16 (M. Culpo 0-4; J. Boyd 0-1; C. Garner 0-1; J. Olasewere 1-1; B. Thompson 2-5; J. Brickman 1-4); Rebounds: SFNY 30 (A. Johnson 9), LIU 34 (J. Boyd 10); Assists: SFNY 16 (J. Newton 6), LIU 18 (J. Brickman 12); Total Fouls -- SFNY 24, LIU 14; Fouled Out: SFNY-T. Nichols; LIU-J. Olasewere.