By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Now that the Nets and Knicks are done scuffling for Big Apple hoops supremacy, our borough's basketball enthusiasts can focus on Brooklyn's longest-running hardwood feud.
Resurgent LIU-Brooklyn will visit upstart St. Francis Brooklyn Thursday night at the Pope Center on Remsen Street as the neighborhood foes square off for the 97th time overall in the 38th annual Battle for Brooklyn game. The game will be televised on MSG2 and Fox Sports Net beginning at 7 p.m.
The defending two-time Northeast Conference champion Blackbirds (8-10) appeared headed toward a disastrous first season under coach Jack Perri as recently as two weeks ago.
LIU-Brooklyn lost reigning NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 12, endured a season-high six-game losing streak, dropped its first two conference games and had its 31-game home winning streak at the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center snapped on Jan. 10.
But lo and behold, the Blackbirds have displayed the moxie of a champion in fighting back to win their last three in a row, including Saturday's 76-65 victory over Monmouth at the WRAC behind 16 points from senior guard C.J. Garner. Fellow fourth-year starter Jamal Olasewere, the reigning NEC Player of the Week, added 13 points for LIU, which improved to 3-3 in NEC play with key matchups against the Terriers (8-9 overall, 4-2 NEC) and league-leading Bryant (13-4, 6-0) looming.
"It feels good obviously," Perri admitted. "We talked about getting back to basics and playing with great effort. Everybody's getting in the mix."
The Blackbirds have ripped off victories in four straight meetings with the Terriers and have taken eight of the last nine in the series, which will continue Feb. 10 at Barclays Center.
Olasewere, who is averaging team highs of 18.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season, had 30 points and a career-best 16 rebounds in last Thursday's 79-75 overtime triumph at Fairleigh Dickinson. The 6-foot-7 Maryland native has emerged as the Blackbirds' go-to guy, filling the massive void left by Boyd's injury as LIU pursues an unprecedented third consecutive NEC crown.
But he certainly hasn't done it alone. Freshman sensation E.J. Reed, junior point guard Jason Brickman, senior forward Booker Hucks and fourth-year stalwarts Kenny Onyechi and Brandon Thompson have also chipped in during the Blackbirds' drive back into contention.
The Terriers, who are coming off Saturday's convincing 70-51 rout of FDU, are doubtlessly chomping at the bit to pull out their first win against the Blackbirds since a wild triple-overtime win at the WRAC on Feb. 6, 2010.
Senior Akeem Johnson is the lone remaining member from that St. Francis squad, but sophomore Jalen Cannon, averaging a team-leading 16.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, and junior guard Ben Mockford would love to put the Terriers back on top in the annual two-game grudge series.
Last year's NEC Coach of the Year Glenn Braica is still seeking his first win against LIU after dropping all four meetings to former LIU coach Jim Ferry in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively. The Terriers are one game in front of the Blackbirds in the NEC standings.
LIU holds a 58-36 lead in the all-time series, and a 21-16 edge in the games designated as "Battle for Brooklyn" contests.
Midwood High School alum Kavon Baker scored 22 points while playing all 40 minutes Monday afternoon, but it wasn't enough as Brooklyn College dropped an 83-70 decision to Richard Stockton College in Galloway, N.J.
Senior forward Steven Grant (Nazareth High School) added 16 points off the bench for the Bulldogs (4-11), who will visit St. Joseph's (Brooklyn) on Wednesday night.
Freshman Jamel Gist returned from a six-game absence to score 15 points and and fellow Brooklyn native Jethro Auguste pulled down 10 rebounds as NYU-Poly fell to visiting St. Joseph's (Long Island), 87-79, on Tuesday night.
The Jays (4-10, 1-7 Skyline Conference) will host Maritime on Thursday.
On the women's side, senior Tamika Guz led four players in double figures with 18 points Monday as LIU-Brooklyn beat Fairleigh Dickinson, 70-62, in Hackensack, N.J., to snap a season-high eight-game losing streak.
“It was a great team win,” said LIU coach Gail Striegler after her unit emerged victorious for the first time since beating Ohio at the WRAC on Dec. 21. “We did a great job of getting the ball inside and taking advantage of our post game. We got key defensive stops and hit crucial free throws at the end. Everyone that played made a contribution, which is what we must have every night for this team to be successful.”
The Blackbirds look to make it two wins in a row Saturday afternoon at Bryant before returning Downtown to host St. Francis Brooklyn on Monday night.
The Lady Terriers nearly erased a 17-point deficit at the Pope Center on Martin Luther King Day before succumbing in a 68-64 loss to Monmouth.
Sophomore forward Jaymee Veney scored 14 points for St. Francis, which fell to 6-11 overall, including 3-3 in NEC action, under first-year coach John Thurston.
Terriers freshman guard Leah Fechko was named the NEC Rookie of the Week on Monday, becoming the first St. Francis player to receive the honor since Autumn Lau on Jan. 11, 2010.
The 5-foot-8 freshman Ohio native made key contributions while earning a start against Fairleigh Dickinson and coming off the bench for 20 minutes against Monmouth. Fechko averaged 11.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals per contest as the Terriers went 1-1 against the NEC's Garden State contingent.
Fechko shot 50 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the charity stripe in the two games. She scored a career-high 13 points, grabbed six boards and dished out three assists in a 64-56 victory over FDU.
The Terriers will visit Central Connecticut State on Saturday before meeting the Blackbirds Monday night at the WRAC.
The Brooklyn College Bulldogs kept on rolling with a 65-55 win over visiting St. Joseph's (Brooklyn) at the West Quad Center on Tuesday night.
Senior Brittany Bowen dominated for BC, putting up a season-high 29 points on 9-of-18 shooting with four steals.
The Bulldogs (12-5), winners of three straight, will host the College of Staten Island on Friday.
Senior Shelby Bruns scored 10 points, but the Lady Jays of NYU-Poly endured a dismal 19 percent shooting effort in Tuesday night's 65-30 loss to Skyline Conference rival St. Joseph's (L.I.).
The Jays (5-11, 2-4) will try to get back in rhythm of things Saturday against visiting Mount St. Mary.
In local girls' high school action, Jennifer Kaye earned MVP honors by scoring 18 points, Christina Heyer added seven points and Emily Hiltunen had six points and eight assists Monday as Bishop Kearney beat Monsignor Scanlon, 45-28, in the 2013 Rose Classic Super Jam.
The Brooklyn Friends varsity improved to 10-3 with Tuesday's 30-24 victory at Lycee Francais de New York.