Long Island let NJIT close a 21-point deficit to three in the middle of the second half, but thanks to Julian Boyd the Blackbirds persevered and pulled out the 84-74 victory at the Wellness Center on Friday night.
After Chris Flores’ lay up cut the Highlanders’ deficit to three with 9:12 remaining in the game, Boyd answered with a 12-7 run all his own to push the lead back up to eight with six minutes to play. The Highlanders got within seven once more in the game, but never truly threatened LIU again.
“It’s just a thing in me, a will to win,” Boyd said. “I want to win bad. I know everyone else on the team does too, but just seeing that lead diminish and wanting to get it back up it just made me work harder to try and do more things to try and get it back up.”
During the run Boyd scored eight points on free throws. He was a perfect 8-8 from the line in the game. Boyd, who was often guarded by the much smaller Isaiah Wilkerson, scored 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. He also grabbed 11 rebounds in 31 minutes
“What I said walking up the stairs was ‘Thank god Julian was here in the second half,'” said LIU head coach Jim Ferry afterwards.
The Blackbirds got solid contributions from a number of sources. Jason Brickman had a solid game with 18 points, six assists and only two turnovers. Jamal Olasewere had a double-double with 15 and 10 boards. Michael Culpo was the fourth LIU player in double-figures with 11.
The first was half was as close to perfect as LIU has played this season and the Blackbirds built a 40-23 lead at the break. But Ferry’s team failed to put NJIT away right after halftime. Wilkerson talked about playing together during halftime and with him on the bench other players stepped up. The Highlanders went on a 15-4 run to close the gap.
While NJIT was making the run, the bench provided the energy and enthusiasm. Loud chants of “Defense, defense,” came from the rambunctious bunch often standing on the sidelines near Engles. It was energy often reserved for last-second shots, but it was there the entire time NJIT made its move.
“The first half of this game I didn’t have one issue,” Ferry said. “I thought we did what we were supposed to do in the first half. We were focused. We had energy. We guarded. We played very unselfish offensively and it clicked. The second half we lacked urgency and we lacked focus.”
Eventually NJIT succumbed to Boyd’s incredible effort, but not until the Highlanders got 35 points off the bench, including 16 points from Arjun Ohri – who shot 4-6 from three. Chris Flores added 14 and five assists, and Wilkerson scored 13 and grabbed seven boards.
The Blackbirds now have six days before reopening NEC play at Sacred Heart on January 5. There’s still a lot for LIU to work on before then.
“Hopefully we learn from these games where we’ve given up leads,” Ferry said. “If we have breakdowns for five or six minutes in our conference we’re going to be in trouble.”
Notes: C.J. Garner had eight points and five assists (against zero turnovers) for LIU … NJIT attempted 70 shots … The Highlanders shot 9-18 from three during their second half comeback … LIU went 27-33 from the line … NJIT committed just eight turnovers … Brickman was 4-6 from three and 6-6 from the free throw line, Ferry called the play of his sophomore point guard “tremendous.”