By John Torenli
Jamal Olasewere’s dunk made SportsCenter’s top 10 plays Sunday night, but for the LIU-Brooklyn forward, beating neighborhood rival St. Francis College was much more important than gaining some national exposure for his aerial display.
Olasewere’s gravity-defying tomahawk jam in the second half of the Blackbirds’ eventual 81-78 victory over the Terriers in front of 1,472 fans at the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center was just the centerpiece of a thrilling two-game sweep for LIU in the annual Battle of Brooklyn series.
“[Playing St. Francis] is a challenge and it’s a way for us to show who we are in tough situations,” said the 6-foot-7 NEC Player of the Year candidate.
Though there were nearly 6,000 more people at Madison Square Garden for last Wednesday’s opener — an 86-77 win for LIU — the atmosphere at The WRAC was certainly more conducive to a heated rivalry game between players who walk less than a mile to travel to one another’s venues.
Olasewere, the hero in LIU’s NEC title game win over Robert Morris last March and the high scorer and rebounder at MSG a week ago, played a game for the ages, scoring 32 points on 11-of-11 shooting from the field.
The reigning Co-NEC Player of the Week also pulled down seven rebounds, blocked two shots, picked up a steal and went 9-of-12 at the free-throw line.
Despite Olasewere’s heroics, it was fellow junior Julian Boyd (20 points and 10 rebounds), also a candidate for Player of the Year honors, who finally helped settle matters in a game that featured 12 lead changes.
The third-year slasher hit a beautiful turnaround jumper to erase a one-point deficit with 18 seconds remaining, lifting LIU to its 22nd consecutive home win — the third-longest running streak in the nation.
The clutch shot also in all likelihood dashed St. Francis’ hopes of escaping with a Battle of Brooklyn split and a shot at catching the Blackbirds for first place in the NEC.
LIU coach Jim Ferry, who last week noted that his Blackbirds would play St. Francis in Tillary Park if need be, may have been looking to clear the venue for a third and decisive game in the season series after Akeem Johnson’s free throw with 30 seconds to play.
Trailing 78-77, LIU put the ball and the game in the hands of Boyd, who accepted the last of sophomore point guard Jason Brickman’s career-high 12 assists and turned the game back in the Blackbirds’ favor with a patented spinning jump shot.
Johnson, who finished with a team-high 23 points for the Terriers, turned it over on the next possession before C.J. Garner’s free throw with a tick remaining closed the door on St. Francis’ bid for an upset.
At 10-4 in NEC play, the Terriers (13-12 overall) are still tied for third place in the conference with Robert Morris. St. Francis will get back to the business of trying to secure a home game in the NEC Tournament when it visits Quinnipiac on Thursday night.
“I think we’re ahead of schedule, but I’m not satisfied,” St. Francis coach and Brooklyn native Glenn Braica said of his team’s progress after the Terriers went 15-15 overall and 10-8 in the NEC a season ago.
The reigning league champion Blackbirds (19-7, 13-1 NEC) maintained their slim one-game lead over second-place Wagner (12-2 NEC) with four regular-season contests remaining, including Thursday’s home game against Sacred Heart.
LIU has won four straight in the neighborhood series, which dates back to 1929. The Blackbirds hold a commanding 60-36 advantage over the Terriers all-time.
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While there was significantly less fanfare surrounding the women’s game Sunday at The WRAC, the Blackbirds took care of business with a 66-53 win over the Terriers to increase their winning streak to three games entering tonight’s rematch at the Pope Center on Remsen Street.
Senior Ashley Palmer scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting and sophomore Cleandra Roberts added a career-best 16 points off the bench for LIU-Brooklyn, which improved to 18-7 overall and 7-6 in conference play.
Junior Ebony Davis blocked a pair of shots for the Blackbirds, breaking Kim Colyer’s LIU single-season record of 47 set in 1988-89.
Sophomore Jasmin Robinson scored 14 points for the Terriers (3-21, 2-11 NEC), who held a six-point lead late in the first half before Palmer and the Blackbirds took control.
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The Brooklyn College men’s hoops squad finished off the regular season in style Monday night at the West Quad Center, rolling past visiting Yeshiva 72-53 in the Bulldogs’ final warmup for the upcoming CUNYAC Tournament.
Champions of the league in 2009 and 2010, BC will be the No. 2 seed and host seventh-seeded York at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Prior to the start of Monday’s game, seniors Amil John, Tyshawn Russell, Jonathan Martinez, Keiran Halton, Wade Kornegay and Eric Rodd were all honored for their hard work and dedication to the program as part of “Senior Day” celebrations.
Russell led all scorers with 20 points, while John finished with 18 points, seven assists and four steals.
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The BC women will enter this weekend’s CUNYAC Tournament as a No. 1 seed after completing their regular season slate with an 81-50 blowout of Briarcliffe on Monday.
Coach Alex Lang’s unit finished the campaign with a program-best-tying 19 victories, including a perfect 11-0 mark in conference play.
Seniors Justine O’Callahan, Kathleen Haggerty, Lauren Plagainos and Melissa St. Louis were honored before the game, and all four started with freshman sensation Nicole Francomano taking the fifth spot.
Plagainos scored all 20 of her points in the first half and O’Callahan finished with 19 points as BC readied for its Sunday afternoon opening-round showdown with eighth-seeded York at CCNY.
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The NYU-Polytechnic women failed to stay in the Skyline Conference playoff hunt Saturday afternoon, dropping a 76-51 decision to Old Westbury.
Junior Shelby Bruns had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Jays, who fell to 10-13 overall and 5-7 in conference play.
NYU-Poly will visit Mount Saint Mary in Newburgh, N.Y., tonight.
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The NYU-Poly men absorbed a 90-73 loss to Old Westbury on Saturday, despite 21 points each from Skyline Rookie of the Week Jethro Auguste and fellow Brooklyn native Brendon Henry.
The Jays will host Mount Saint Mary this evening at Downtown’s Jacobs Gymnasium.