By John Torenli
Ashley Palmer and the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds are doing what great players and title-hungry teams do as the regular season winds down.
Palmer, already the leading scorer in LIU women’s basketball history, amassed 25 points and seven rebounds Wednesday night at Remsen Street’s Pope Center to bring home a 60-53 victory over neighborhood rival St. Francis and the coveted Battle of Brooklyn MVP award for the second straight year.
The hotly contested rivalry game wasn’t decided until the late stages of the second half, when Palmer hit a 10-foot jumper and made a layup to give the Blackbirds (19-7 overall, 8-6 NEC) a 56-51 cushion with only 42 seconds to play.
The victory lifted LIU into a three-way tie for fourth place in the NEC with Robert Morris and St. Francis (Pa.). Only the top four teams in the final standings will host an NEC Tournament game, something the Blackbirds would prefer based on their 11-2 mark at the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center this season.
Regardless of where they play, however, coach Gail Striegler’s team is always at an advantage when Palmer is on the court.
“Anybody in the conference wants to have a player like Ashley,” Striegler noted this season. “To win that [NEC] championship, you definitely need that go-to kid.”
The Oxford, Pa., native currently leads the conference with 18.7 points per game and ranks ninth with 7.7 rebounds per contest.
“She can score inside, she can score outside and she’s one of the best finishers in the conference,” Striegler added.
A strong candidate for NEC Player of the Year honors, Palmer appears determined to lead the Blackbirds to their first NEC Tournament appearance since 2001 in her fourth and final year of eligibility.
After suffering playoff disappointments the last two seasons, including a crushing home loss to St. Francis, Pa., in the NEC title game at The WRAC in 2010, the Blackbirds might be building toward something big come March 3, when the opening round commences.
Following a two-game skid to close January, LIU has won four in a row and will look to continue that streak Saturday afternoon at The WRAC when it hosts Quinnipiac amid Senior Day celebrations.
Palmer will be honored along with fellow fourth-year players Kiara Evans, the school’s all-time assists leader, and She’tiarra Pledger, Marika Sprow and MaryAnn Abrams. Though all of her departing seniors have played a significant role in making the Blackbirds a legitimate NEC contender, there’s no doubt that Palmer will be the hardest to replace.
“It’s important to have players like [Palmer] because you can build around them,” said Striegler. “You have to have players around her though, to have a successful team and win the conference.”
Though they fell to 3-22 overall and 2-12 in the NEC, coach Brenda Milano’s St. Francis squad gave LIU all it could handle before Palmer settled matters.
Sophomore guard Jasmin Robinson, a Brooklyn native and graduate of Medgar Evers Prep, scored 16 of her 17 points in the second half, and freshman Sarah Benedetti added 11 points and seven rebounds for the Terriers.
But Palmer, as usual, proved too much for the overmatched Terriers down the stretch, leaving St. Francis to look forward to Saturday’s home finale against Sacred Heart.
The game is also part of the Terriers’ fifth annual “Shoot for a Cure” fundraiser as fans are encouraged to wear pink to heighten cancer awareness.
Tip-off at the Pope Center is slated for 4 p.m.
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In other local college hoops action, the NYU-Polytechnic women’s team suffered a 64-43 loss at Mount Saint Mary’s in Newburgh, N.Y. on Wednesday, while the men’s team went down 82-52 to the Mount at Downtown’s Jacobs Gymnasium.
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Off the hardwood and onto the diamond, the LIU baseball team will open its season tonight at the University of Central Florida after posting a program-best 28 wins last year.
Picked to finish fifth in the NEC this season, the Blackbirds return catcher Tyler Jones and right-handed starter Chris Franzese, both of whom earned a spot on the All-NEC First Team.
Be sure to read next week’s Eagle for an update on the Brooklyn College men’s and women’s teams participation in this weekend’s CUNYAC basketball tournaments or log on to www.brooklyneagle.com