By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Jack Perri has certainly endured a challenging start to his tenure as LIU-Brooklyn's head men's basketball coach.
And the biggest challenge yet is still in front of him.
The Blackbirds' first-year head coach found out Monday that he would no longer enjoy the services of reigning Northeast Conference Player of the Year Julian Boyd this season.
The heralded forward from San Antonio, who also captured NEC Rookie of the Year honors and was the MVP of last year's NEC Tournament, will miss the remainder of the 2012-13 season with a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his right knee.
The injury was suffered during LIU-Brooklyn's 97-70 victory over Rice in Boyd's home state of Texas last Wednesday night. Perri guided the Blackbirds (5-4) to a 75-48 triumph over Manhattan College on Sunday at the Wellness Center, marking the program's 31st consecutive victory on its home floor, and fifth in a row overall.
However, life without Boyd, who sat out the entire 2009-10 campaign with a heart ailment, won't get any easier for the Blackbirds as they continue their quest for an unprecedented third straight NEC title. Senior Brandon Thompson proved capable of filling the monstrous void in LIU's lineup by scoring a career-high 23 points against the Jaspers over the weekend, but even he was stunned by the news of his fellow Texan's injury.
''I don't know who took the news harder, me, (forward) Jamal (Olasewere) or Julian,'' Thompson told the AP. ''[Monday] morning was the worst. It was so easy to break down knowing Julian from back home. We knew we all had to step up to a higher rate without him.''
As will Perri, who assumed control of the Blackbirds after seven years as Jim Ferry's capable assistant following the long-tenured coach's departure to Duquesne outside of Pittsburgh following LIU's first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Michigan State last spring.
Perri's brief honeymoon as LIU's head man was interceded by news that Boyd and three of his teammates were involved in an on-campus brawl back on Sept. 15, resulting in the suspensions of those players for the Blackbirds' first two NEC games -- Jan. 3 at Sacred Heart and Jan. 5 at Quinnipiac.
Now, LIU faces the rest of the season without arguably the best player in the program's recent history.
''Things are different for us because we didn't necessarily run everything through him,'' Perri said of losing his leading scorer and second-best rebounder. ''We still have talented players. We still have three players I consider to have all-conference talent. So I'm not going to change things a ton.''
The trio of Olasewere (averaging 18.1 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds), junior point guard Jason Brickman and senior C.J. Garner will doubtlessly be relied on more heavily without Boyd, as will Thompson and key reserve Booker Hucks.
Hucks had 12 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes Sunday while sophomore Khalil Murphy contributed seven rebounds in his first career start in place of Boyd.
Though Boyd is done for the year, he might be back for another shot at his senior campaign in 2013-14, according to Perri, who will help the fallen forward apply for a medical redshirt since he will play in less than 30 percent of the Blackbirds' games.
"We will appeal for the sixth year for Julian," Perri revealed.
Disheartened to learn he'd be on the sidelines for the Blackbirds' run toward another NCAA bid, Boyd, who is still waiting for the swelling to go down in the joint before undergoing surgery, continues to take things in stride.
'It was easier today because we played a great game," Boyd said. "Close games and things like that are kind of hard when you think you can your help your team.''
As for the rest of the Blackbirds, the goal remains the same: grab another NEC crown and take another shot at posting the Downtown's school's first-ever NCAA Tournament win.
''I knew I had to step up with Julian out,'' Thompson said. ''We all will.''
St. Francis Brooklyn forward Akeem Johnson was thrilled to be playing at the Barclays Center on Saturday night as the Terriers participated in the inaugural Winter Classic at the state-of-the-art-arena on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. But the borough native wasn't excited about his team's fifth consecutive loss, a 77-60 thumping at the hands of the bigger and more athletic Red Storm of St. John's.
"It was a great experience. I'm from Brooklyn, grew up in Brooklyn, played my high school ball in Brooklyn and playing my college ball here in Brooklyn," noted Johnson, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. "But I wanted to win tonight."
Sophomore Jalen Cannon added 14 poitns and 12 boards for St. Francis Brooklyn, which watched St. John's hit 6-of-14 3-pointers.
"We hung in there in the first half," said reigning NEC Coach of the Year Glenn Braica of his slumping unit, which trailed 45-35 at intermission. "They wore us down a little bit (in the second half). They're very athletic."
Braica admitted that the Terriers (2-7) were fatigued after playing seven of their first nine contests away from Remsen Street, where they have yet to post a win this year.
"I think it makes you tougher down the raod," he said of the travel-filled portion of St. Francis' early schedule. "We need a combination of rest this week and good practices to tighten things up."
The Terriers will enjoy a much-needed week break before hosting Colgate at the Pope Center on Saturday.
"Now it's a chance for us to be home for a week. We need to get better as a team," Braica said.
The Brooklyn College men's team went into its winter break off an impressive win, topping borough rival Medgar Evers, 75-71, last Tuesday behind a team-high 18 points from Brooklyn native Steven Grant. The Bulldogs (2-5) will be off until Dec. 29, when they visit Yeshiva University.
On the women's side, The LIU-Brooklyn bowling team was ranked 16th in the nation, according to the latest National Tenpin Coaches Association poll. The ranking is the highest in program history and marks the first time the Blackbirds have cracked the Top 20 poll.
Under the leadership of first-year coach Kayla Jones, LIU (19-14, 5-4 NEC) has played in three tournaments thus far, accumulating nine wins over Top 20 competition, including currently ranked foes No. 6 Nebraska, No. 7 Arkansas State, No. 12 Sacred Heart, and No. 15 Valparaiso.
LIU Brooklyn will return to action at the St. Francis Brooklyn New Year's Knockdown on Jan. 19-20.
The Lady Jays of NYU-Poly have a keeper in freshman guard Alyssa D'Apice.
The Carmel, NY native was named the Skyline Conference's Rookie of the Week after averaging 21.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 4.5 steals in the Jays' back-to-back victories over John Jay and Yeshiva before the winter break.
D'Apice has reached double figures in scoring in all seven of NYU-Poly's games this year.
The Jays (2-5) will return to the hardwood Jan. 5 against visiting CCNY.
In other local college sports news, the St. Francis Terriers' men's soccer squad, which went a respectable 7-10-1 this past season while playing its home games at Brooklyn's Aviator Sports Complex, has a new home.
The newly minted pitches at Pier 5 Brooklyn Bridge Park will be the Terriers' practice and game facility going forward, it was announced last week during the opening ceremony of the new facility.
"Having this world class field as home to our Division I Men's Soccer team as well as soccer clinics for children in the community helps to further strengthen the bond between St. Francis College and our Brooklyn Heights neighbors," said Brendan J. Dugan, President of St. Francis College. We applaud the hard work and efforts of everyone involved who made this dream a reality."