John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Let's do it again! appears to be the rallying cry for the two-time defending Northeast Conference champion LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds as they prepare for their much-anticipated season opener at Barclays Center.
“We’ll find out," first-year Blackbirds head coach Jack Perri said when asked if his Blackbirds were ready to become the first team in NEC history to earn three successive trips to the NCAA Tournament. "I certainly like our experience, having those guys back again. We’re excited about it.”
The excitement in Downtown Brooklyn has centered around the Brooklyn Nets, who open their season at Barclays next Thursday against the East River Rival Knicks, and the New York Islanders, who announced Wednesday that they'd be arriving on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in time for the 2015-16 NHL season.
But the state-of-the-art arena will kick off a busy college basketball slate Nov. 9, when LIU hosts Morehead State in the first of its four scheduled contests at Barclays this season.
Perri, who takes over for Duquesne-bound coach Jim Ferry, isn't exactly new to the Downtown hoops scene. He served as Ferry's assistant in each of the previous seven seasons, helping to build and improve the best collegiate hoops squad in the city since 2010.
“It certainly is a comfort level because I’ve known these kids since they were 16, 17 from recruiting them," noted Perri, whose team was picked to finish first in the conference yet again by the NEC coaches during the league's preseason media day at the Barclays Center on Tuesday. "They know my voice. Jimmy let me do a lot during the years he was here, so the transition has been easy."
Led by All-NEC selections Julian Boyd, the reigning NEC Player of the Year, and Jamal Olasewere, the Blackbirds have won 32 of their last 36 conference tilts, and 27 straight home games overall.
Senior shooting guard C.J. Garner and junior point man Jason Brickman will man the backcourt while Boyd and Olasewere run up front for LIU, which lost to North Carolina and Michigan State, respectively, in the opening round of the last two NCAA Tournaments.
“Jason is tremendous," Perri said of his dimunitive but speedy playmaker, who had led the league in assists in each of his first two seasons. "Obviously, he’s uncanny with his ability to run the floor and control the ball and he’s not going to talk back to me because he’s so quiet.”
Boyd, Olaswere and Garner will sit out the Blackbirds' first two NEC games for their part in an on-campus altercation back in September. But LIU's fearsome frontcourt duo is the key to Perri's squad finding a way to capture a third straight conference crown.
“They’ve improved every year," Perri said. "[Julian's] expanded his game. He can really run the floor and drive to the basket, and now he’s shooting [3-pointers] at a 40 percent clip. They both make their free throws. They’ve earned everything that they’ve gotten.”
As have the Blackbirds, who received nine first-place votes in the coaches' poll compared to three for second-ranked Robert Morris.
Perri admitted that the Barclays Center has provided a prime recruiting tool for a program that wallowed in virtual obscurity Downtown before Ferry turned them into a winning machine over the previous two seasons.
“It’s awesome," Ferry gushed of his team's new home away from home. "It’s a beautiful place that’s literally three blocks away from our campus.”
Just a few blocks further off on Remsen Street, the St. Francis Terriers are busy getting ready to follow up their breakthrough 2011-12 campaign.
Picked to finish fifth in the NEC Coaches' poll, the Terriers went a respectable 15-15 overall during NEC Coach of the Year Glenn Braica's second season at the helm, including a brilliant 12-6 mark in league play.
“We never really put too much emphasis on preseason polls,” said Braica. “We need to take care of what we can control, and that's how hard we work everyday to get better.”
Picked to finish 11th last year, St. Francis instead wound up hosting its first NEC Tournament game since 2004.
Key returnees like Jalen Cannon, Akeem Johnson, Travis Nichols, Drew Calloway and Brent Jones figure to keep the Terriers close to the top of the NEC standings throughout the season, which St. Francis will kick off Nov. 9 at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.
The Terriers' first home game in Brooklyn Heights will be Nov. 20 against Army.
LIU and St. Francis will renew their "Battle for Brooklyn" rivalry Jan. 24 at the Pope Center before squaring off at Barclays Feb. 20 in a game that could factor heavily both teams' pursuit of a high seeding for the NEC Tournament.
Over at Brooklyn College, the men's soccer team advanced to the CUNYAC semifinals with a 2-0 victory over Hunter on Wednesday.
Freshman Oleg Tykhonravov and junior Dmitry Prokofyev scored for the Bulldogs, who won their seventh straight game and improved to 12-4-2 overall this season as they prepare for Saturday's semifinal clash with CCNY.
Though they didn't qualify for the playoffs, the Brooklyn College women's squad capped an impressive inaugural season under coach Patrick Horne with an 8-0 victory over visiting Medgar Evers Wednesday night.
Sophomore Shani Abrahams tallied twice and fourth-year forward Sharon Chuchuney celebrated Senior Night in style with her first career goal for BC, which completed its first full campaign with a solid 6-7-1 mark.