Host Colonials at Steinberg Center in NEC Tournament Quarterfinals
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It’s been four years since the LIU-Brooklyn men’s basketball program celebrated the last of its record three consecutive Northeast Conference Tournament championships here in Downtown Brooklyn.
Beginning Wednesday at the Steinberg Wellness Center, the second-seeded Blackbirds hope to kick off the drive toward yet another confetti shower and NCAA Tournament appearance when they host No. 7 Robert Morris in the NEC Quarterfinals.
Though they fell one game shy of capturing the top overall seed, head coach Jack Perri’s squad finished the regular season as the conference’s hottest, reeling off six straight victories, including Saturday afternoon’s 88-84 overtime victory at Wagner in front of 1,382 fans at Staten Island’s Spiro Center.
NEC Player of the Week Iverson Fleming scored 23 points and newly minted conference Player of the Year Jerome Frink added 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Blackbirds (20-11 overall, 13-5 NEC), who have not tasted defeat since an 80-78 setback to St. Francis University (Pennsylvania) here on Feb. 4.
Fleming and Frink, both seniors, have spearheaded LIU’s charge back into serious contention for a conference crown, combining to average nearly 32 points per contest.
But this isn’t a top-heavy unit by any stretch.
The Blackbirds boast emerging freshman point guard Jashaun Agosto, who had 12 points and seven assists in Saturday’s come-from-behind win over the Seahawks, helping LIU erase a 12-point second-half deficit.
Also, junior forward Nura Zanna has complemented Frink along the boards with the duo combining for over 17 rebounds per game, giving the Blackbirds one of the best glass-cleaning duos in the league, if not the nation.
The Colonials (13-18, 9-9) don’t figure to be a walkover in the opening round after splitting the regular season series with the Blackbirds this year.
LIU knocked off Robert Morris, 65-54, in Moon Township, Pennsylvania back on Jan. 5 as Frink put up 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists and Zanna added 12 points and a team-high 13 boards.
But the Colonials got their revenge here on Feb. 2 behind 21 points from Isaiah Still in a game that saw the Blackbirds shoot a dismal 39 percent from the floor while misfiring on 11 of 23 free-throw attempts.
The winner of tonight’s game will advance to Saturday’s conference semifinals. The NEC Championship Game, which will be aired on ESPN, is set for next Tuesday night on the home court of the highest remaining seed.
Perri will be seeking his second title as head coach. He navigated the Blackbirds to the 2012-13 championship, and their last 20-plus win season, following Jim Ferry’s departure from the Downtown scene after back-to-back NEC titles in 2011 and 2012.
Last season, LIU advanced to the NEC semis before being knocked off by Wagner in Staten Island.
Defending champion and No. 6 seed Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU) will visit the third-seeded Seahawks tonight in the opening round while top-seeded Mount St. Mary hosts No. 8 Sacred Heart and No. 5 Bryant visits fourth-seeded SFU.
The St. Francis Brooklyn men’s basketball team did not qualify for the NEC Championships after posting a brutal 2-16 in conference play, but the women’s squad, two years removed from its historic run to the NCAAs, is back in play.
The Terriers grabbed the No. 7 seed in the Women’s NEC Tournament and will travel to Fairfield, Connecticut, where they began their title run in 2015, on Sunday to take on No. 2 Sacred Heart.
The Pioneers, who came up a win shy of grabbing the top seed, went 9-0 at home in conference play this year, including a 61-58 triumph over the Terriers on Feb. 13.
Sacred Heart also beat SFC Brooklyn, 81-74, on Remsen Street back on Jan. 16, but the Terriers (8-21, 6-12 NEC) are harboring hopes of building off their latest win, Monday’s 71-55 rout of Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Junior forward Alex Delaney led four SFC player in double figures with 18 points, including her 100th career 3-pointer, while senior Olivia Levey added 16 for the Terriers, who missed out on the conference tourney a year ago.
“I'd like to think that this is the real us,” Terriers head coach John Thurston said after Monday’s victory. "We played hard at both ends of the floor … We had four players in double figures, that's the best version of us."
Though they aren’t postseason-bound, the LIU women’s squad finished off its campaign on a high note, topping Wagner, 63-58, at the Spiro Center as freshman center Aja Boyd and senior guard Shanovia Dove combined for all but 14 of the Blackbirds’ points.
Boyd set career highs of 28 points and 15 rebounds while Dove added 21 points in her LIU swan song performance.
The Blackbirds finished 6-23 overall and 5-13 in NEC play, leaving them one game back of SFC Brooklyn and FDU for the league’s final two tournament slots.