By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It must have felt like the same old story for the Brooklyn College Bulldogs as they prepared for overtime Sunday afternoon at the West Quad Center.
Almost a year to the day after having their chances for a CUNYAC title crushed in a heartbreaking home overtime defeat to York College last season, the Bulldogs were once again headed for an extra session, this time against Brooklyn rival Medgar Evers.
Jeffrey Noel made sure history didn't repeat itself.
The 6-foot-5 senior forward scored 20 points and pulled down seven rebounds, forcing the initial extra session with a clutch 3-pointer, as Brooklyn College escaped the indignity of a second consecutive playoff ouster on its home floor with a thrilling 79-76 triple-overtime triumph over Medgar Evers in the CUNYAC quarterfinals.
The fourth-seeded Bulldogs (12-13 overall, 9-7 CUNYAC) were nearly knocked off in OT again, but Noel picked up a loose ball and went in for a tying layup to force a second extra period.
A series of late misses by both squads resulted in a third OT, keeping the crowd of 576 on the edge of its seats before sophomore guard Steven Diaz and senior Kavon Baker, a Midwood High School alum, combined to make four big free throws down the stretch to nail down the victory at long last.
Baker finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals while playing all 55 minutes, but it was Noel who took home the game's MVP award after saving BC's seasons twice in a matter of minutes.
Senior Steven Grant scored 10 pionts and freshman Egzon Gjonbalaj added a career-high 13 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who will face top-seeded College of Staten Island on Thursday evening at CCNY in the semifinal round.
The second-seeded Lady Bulldogs had a much easier time advancing the semis, burying CCNY, 71-21, on Saturday.
Senior Brittany Bowen scored a game-high 16 points, draining 4-of-6 3-pointers, as BC won its season-high 12th consecutive game to set up a Final Four showdown with COSI on Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
Junior Vanessa D'Ambrosi scored 13 points and senior Tiffany Thompson added 11 points and a game-high 11 boards for the Bulldogs, who haven't tasted defeat since a 56-55 home loss to Rutgers-Newark on Jan. 14.
The LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds are finally back where they belong -- atop the Northeast Conference standings.
Jamal Olasewere, a strong candidate to capture NEC Player of the Year honors, scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds and fellow seniors C.J. Garner and Booker Hucks added 15 points apiece as the Blackbirds (15-11, 10-4 NEC) completed their climb back to the top with an easy 92-67 triumph over Fairleigh Dickinson at the Wellness Center on Saturday.
Blindsided by an ugly offseason incident that resulted in the suspension of four players for the first two NEC contests, hindered by the loss of reigning NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd due to a knee injury and defeated in their first three conference games, first-year coach Jack Perri's team hardly had the look of a team destined to repeat as NEC champs for a third consecutive season.
But LIU has caught fire since a season-high six-game losing streak, reeling off 10 victories in its last 11 games, including the last four in a row, to tie rival Robert Morris for the NEC's top spot with four games remaining.
Olasewere, who has spearheaded the Blackbirds' improbable run, used his latest sparkling effort to climb past James Williams (2003-07) into fourth place on the Downtown school's all-time scoring list with 1,725 career points.
LIU can make it five wins in a row and take sole possession of first place in the NEC when it visits Emmitsburg, Md., on Thursday night to take on Mount St. Mary's.
While the Blackbirds continue to flourish in February, their neighborhood rivals are on the outside looking in at the NEC playoff race.
St. Francis Brooklyn (10-15, 6-8 NEC) dropped into ninth place in the league standings -- only the top eight teams advance to the NEC Tournament -- with Saturday's 73-64 defeat at Monmouth.
Senior Travis Nichols scored 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range, for the Terriers, who slipped a half-game back of Central Connecticut State for the final NEC playoff spot.
Coach Glenn Braica, who got the Terriers off to a rousing 4-2 start in conference play, has watched his team suffer six defeats in its last eight NEC contests, including a pair of losses to the surging Blackbirds.
St. Francis can still salvage its season with the first of its final four games against visiting Wagner Thursday night at the Pope Center.
The St. Francis Brooklyn ladies posted their fourth victory in five games with Monday night's 56-50 victory at Fairleigh Dickinson, further boosting their NEC Tournament hopes after failing to qualify for the postseason in each of the previous four campaigns.
Sophomore guard Eilidh Simpson put up 13 points and reigning NEC Rookie of the Week Leah Fechko added 12 points and a career-high 13 rebounds as the Terriers (11-14, 8-6 NEC) climbed into a tie for fourth in the standings with St. Francis (Pa.).
“It's always tough to win on the road,” said first-year Terriers head coach John Thurston. “Tonight, we didn't shoot particularly well, but it's the aggressiveness on both sides of the ball that kept us in the game. Eilidh didn't have a great shooting night [4-of-9], but kept doing everything else well, fighting for the ball, and late made a big-three. She didn't lose her composure.”
Thurston's arrival has marked a renaissance for the struggling program, which has posted 11 victories overall for the first time since 2006-07, and eight wins in NEC play for the first time since 2006-07.
The Terriers will try to cap off a 3-1 road trip when they visit Mount St. Mary's Saturday.
The LIU Brooklyn women's team fell to Monmouth, 69-60, on Monday night despite 19 points from senior Tamika Guz.
At 5-19 overall and a dismal 2-11 in NEC action, coach Gail Striegler's team is almost assured of missing the NEC Tournament for the first time in four seasons.
The Blackbirds will visit Central Connecticut State on Wednesday night to play a rescheduled contest against the Blue Devils. The original meeting was postponed due to this month's snow storm.
Shelby Bruns went out in style for NYU-Poly at Brooklyn's Jacobs Gymnasium on Saturday.
The senior surpassed the 1,000-point mark in her final game as a Lady Jay and led her team to a come-from-behind 62-58 victory over Mount Saint Vincent as NYU-Poly closed out the season with a 7-18 mark.
Bruns, a Nevada native, reached the milestone on a jump shot just 2:27 into the Senior Day finale before finishing with a team-high 16 points.
The NYU-Poly men closed out the 2012-13 campaign with Saturday's 73-64 home loss to Mount Saint Vincent.
The Jays (7-18) honored seniors Jason Samuels and Tom McDonough before the contest.