The road to the NEC title still goes through Brooklyn, even if LIU and St. Francis (NY) played at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. The Blackbirds took home an 86-77 win to maintain control of first place in the conference at 12-1.
"We knew coming in that St. Francis coming in had won nine of their last 11," said Jamal Olasewere. "They're definitely a team on a mission coming in trying to knock us off. So we definitely took that into consideration going into tonight's game."
The Terriers managed to make the game interesting. A run right before halftime left them down just one point at the break. Coming out of it Akeem Johnson, who scored a game-high 24 points, hit a layup to give SFC its only lead of the game. LIU then responded with a 16-5 run. St. Francis never got closer than five points after that moment.
St. Francis managed to launch 80 shots, but the Terriers shot just 37.5% from the field and 7-29 (24.1%) from beyond the arc. When St. Francis wasn't grabbing offensive rebounds, which it did often with 20 for 28 second-chance points, the offense sputtered.
On the other end LIU used its typically aggressive offense to set the tone in the second half. Olasewere and C.J. Garner attacked the rim consistently and LIU shot 37 free throws in the game, including 31 in the second half alone. Olasewere finished with 21 points and 11 boards and Garner scored 19 points.
"The key with Jamal is just not fouling," said LIU head coach Jim Ferry. "If he doesn't foul he has the potential to be one of the best players in this league. He's so versatile."
The only LIU player that didn't get very involved was Julian Boyd. The Blackbirds' star player was hampered by foul trouble, but he still managed a 17-point, 11-board double-double in just 27 minutes of action. He was an efficient 5-9 from the field, but struggled at the line shooting 6-10.
That aggressive style of play is what makes Ferry's team so tough at home and it's looking more and more like the Blackbirds will be there throughout the NEC tournament. LIU has now defeated Wagner twice and St. Francis (NY) once, with the opportunity to get another victory over the Terriers on Sunday at the Wellness Center on Sunday in the Battle of Brooklyn. Ferry isn't happy that these two games are so close together.
"It's brutal, I don't like it," Ferry said about the NEC rivalry week schedule. "I don't like that we have to play these rivalry games back-to-back. Ours is a true rivalry game, St. Francis and LIU. There's so much emotion used up in these basketball games."
Olasewere enjoys the format. "I think it's exciting," he said. "It's more of a challenge. We're able to show what we really are in situations like this."
For St. Francis to pull the upset in that game the Terriers are going to have to shoot better from three than their effort on Wednesday. LIU started with Michael Culpo on Stefan Perunicic and he failed to get into the offensive flow of the game finishing with zero points on 0-4 shooting from the field. Ben Mockford scored 20 points, but it took him 22 shots to do so (including 3-11 from three) and Travis Nichols shot 3-11 (2-7 from three) and scored eight points. One of those perimeter players is going to have to step up on Sunday for the results to change.
"I think everyone in the league knows that we're winning and that we should be close to the top of the league," Johnson said. "They're a great team and they played us well. Sunday we're just trying to come back and hopefully we'll play better. Hopefully we'll remember our defensive principles and the outcome will be different."
LONG ISLAND 86, at SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 77 02/08/2012
LONG ISLAND 18-7 (12-1) -- J. Brickman 3-7 5-6 13; J. Olasewere 8-15 5-7 21; M. Culpo 3-5 1-1 8; C. Garner 5-11 9-11 19; J. Boyd 5-9 6-10 17; B. Thompson 1-2 0-0 3; K. Onyechi 2-2 1-2 5; A. Mayorga 0-1 0-0 0; B. Hucks 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-52 27-37 86. SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 13-11 (10-3) -- B. Mockford 8-22 1-1 20; A. Johnson 11-17 2-2 24; T. Nichols 3-11 0-0 8; B. Jones 5-15 0-0 12; P. Santavenere 1-5 1-1 3; J. Cannon 1-2 4-4 6; S. Perunicic 0-4 0-0 0; J. Newton 0-2 0-0 0; M. Milk 1-1 2-2 4; K. Douglas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 30-80 10-10 77.
Three-point goals: LIU 5-12 (M. Culpo 1-3; J. Boyd 1-2; J. Olasewere 0-1; B. Thompson 1-2; J. Brickman 2-4), SFNY 7-29 (J. Newton 0-1; S. Perunicic 0-1; B. Mockford 3-11; T. Nichols 2-7; B. Jones 2-5; P. Santavenere 0-3; K. Douglas 0-1); Rebounds: LIU 38 (J. Boyd 11), SFNY 29 (A. Johnson 8); Assists: LIU 13 (J. Brickman 8), SFNY 17 (B. Jones 6); Total Fouls -- LIU 13, SFNY 26; Fouled Out: LIU-None; SFNY-B. Jones.