Fuchko’s Putback Lands St. Francis in Mid-Major Top 25
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
With each victory, the St. Francis women's basketball team makes more history.
On Monday night in Teaneck, N.J., the surprising Terriers got a game-winning putback from sophomore guard Leah Fuchko in the final seconds to pull out a 57-55 comeback victory over Northeast Conference rival Fairleigh Dickinson.
Fuchko, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, helped St. Francis, a perennial bottom-dweller in the NEC during past seasons, improve to 2-0 in league play for the first time since the 1990-91 season.
Winners of a season-high seven games in a row, the Terriers (11-2) are now ranked inside the Top 25 Mid-Major Poll for the first time in their history, taking the final spot in the weekly rankings.
With only two losses in their first 13 contests, both of which came against non-conference foes (Miami and St. John's), the Terriers appear poised to contend for the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament bid.
Junior forward Jessica Kaufman scored 10 of her team-high 14 points in the second half Monday as St. Francis overcame an 11-point deficit over the final 6 1/2 minutes en route to its latest stirring win.
"I'm proud of the fact that our team refused to give up tonight," second-year Terriers coach John Thurston said as his team prepares to visit the Barclays Center on Saturday for a high noon showdown with neighborhood rival LIU-Brooklyn.
"We stepped up and made big plays when we needed it, especially late in the contest with Leah and Jessica providing that spark," he added. "We have to get back to playing with a little more aggressiveness, especially on the offensive end. Our initial defense has been solid but we need to be a little more aggressive on the offensive end."
The Terriers, enjoying their best start to a season ever, nearly saw their winning streak come to a close as FDU’s final bid at a game-winning layup went up and off the rim.
Fuchko soared into a pack of rebounders and grabbed the clinching carom as time expired, sending St. Francis to its initial trip to Barclays in search of its eighth consecutive victory.
The Blackbirds (2-11, 0-2 NEC) had their hearts broken at Mount St. Mary's Monday night as the Mountaineers' Jaqueline Brewer hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 25 seconds to pull out a 63-62 triumph.
Senior Cleandra Roberts scored 21 points and junior Letava Whippy added 12 for the Blackbirds, who would like nothing better than to snap the Terriers’ recent run Saturday en route to their first conference win.
Before the local ladies duke it out for neighborhood bragging rights in Downtown Brooklyn this weekend, the LIU-Brooklyn men will visit Remsen Street Thursday night for the initial “Battle of Brooklyn” encounter with St. Francis.
Unfortunately, the Blackbirds will do so without the services of star forward Julian Boyd, who was officially ruled out for the remainder of the season earlier this week after suffering a re-tear of the ACL in his right knee.
Boyd, a former NEC Rookie and Player of the Year, was instrumental in guiding LIU to an unprecedented three consecutive NEC Championships.
The 6-foot-7 Boyd, who initially injured the knee on Dec. 12, 2012 during a game at Rice in his native Texas, was tentatively scheduled to rejoin his teammates in time for the opening of NEC play this week.
However, he went down again during a non-contact drill in Texas on Dec. 26 shortly after being cleared to practice with the team. A subsequent MRI revealed the re-tear and forced the Blackbirds to announce the end of his storied career at the Downtown school.
"I feel so badly for Julian, he has worked tirelessly over the past year to rehabilitate his knee,” said second-year LIU coach Jack Perri. “He was determined to make it back on the court in whatever capacity he could. He has such an incredible work ethic that you thought if anyone could do it, he could. I just can't help but feel sick with all that he has gone through and had to deal with over his career. He is truly a special person and competitor that helped LIU Brooklyn basketball achieve unparalleled heights."
Boyd, who also sat out his entire second season at LIU due to a heart ailment, finishes his Blackbird career as the program’s 11th-leading scorer and sixth-leading rebounder.
"Julian has great resilience and there is no doubt that with his work ethic, his future is still very bright,” added LIU Director of Athletics John Suarez. “He has been such an integral part to our basketball program's success over the past five years and we are going to miss him terribly."
The Blackbirds, gunning for a fourth straight NEC crown, got a career-high 22 points off the bench from junior Landon Atterbury on Dec. 30 en route to a 73-64 win at Texas State.
LIU (5-8) will be a rare underdog to rival St. Francis (9-6) when the teams square off Thursday night at the Pope Center.
The Terriers, who matched the program record for non-conference victories, saw their four-game winning streak snapped with Saturday’s 81-61 setback at Columbia.
Junior Jalen Cannon and senior Ben Mockford scored 15 points apiece for St. Francis, which will look to build on its 4-1 home record against the visiting Blackbirds.
Over at Brooklyn College, the men’s squad suffered a 69-61 loss to visiting Baruch at the West Quad Center on Tuesday night.
Junior Jai Kellman scored a team-high 16 points for the Bulldogs, who fell to 3-8 overall and 1-4 in CUNYAC action.
The Lady Bulldogs (7-4, 3-2 CUNYAC) also dropped their latest decision to Baruch, 57-44, on Tuesday despite 13 points and seven rebounds from senior forward Megan Campbell.
Both the men’s and women’s squads will be at John Jay College on Friday evening.