We’ve got a rematch.
LIU Brooklyn showed its championship experience by not panicking down eight with eight minutes remaining and calmly dispatched upstart Quinnipiac, 78-75 at the Wellness and Recreation Center in the NEC Tournament semifinals.
“I thought our guys showed unbelievable character,” said LIU head coach Jim Ferry. “Played with fantastic poise. I thought these guys really hung tight, hung together.”
Down 65-57 with 7:35 to play after James Johnson’s three the Blackbirds appeared to be in trouble. Over the next 4:35 LIU (23-8, 16-2) trusted the formula that had led them to 25-straight home wins, went on a 16-4 run, and pulled out the semifinal victory.
The top seed in NEC Tournament, the Blackbirds will now host third-seeded Robert Morris in a rematch of last season’s title game, which LIU won in overtime, 85-82. It is also a chance for LIU to avenge one of its NEC losses this season, 75-66 at RMU.
“It’s great to be back,” said Jason Brickman. “It’s going to be real physical, a real tough battle and the tougher team will win.”
Down the stretch it was a number of familiar faces that did the work for LIU. The Blackbirds got key contributions from Julian Boyd, the NEC’s Player of the Year, Jamal Olasewere and Brickman to pull out the win. Boyd was spectacular. He scored 21 points on 13 shots, grabbed nine boards and generally had an answer for almost every big play Quinnipiac made. During the crucial run he scored eight points.
Brickman, the Blackbirds’ sublime, understated point guard, controlled the game in the unique ways only a player who constantly has the ball in his hands can. Whether it was slipping off screens to go right down the lane for twisting layups, finding Boyd at the perfect moment, or just calmly setting the next play, it was Brickman who made it all happen.
“I just wanted to keep my poise,” Brickman said. “I have a great team and coaching staff around me, so I just wanted to be under control.”
In a game where he had to make the right decisions in order for the Blackbirds to win, Brickman came up the biggest, tying a career-high with 18 points and dishing out five assists. Six of those 18 points came during the game clinching run.
Thanks to some unlikely contributions from Arnold Mayorga and Booker Hucks the Blackbirds were able to withstand foul trouble for Olasewere in the first half. He struggled with fouls in the second half as well, but still managed to score 13 points and help turn the foul advantage towards LIU. Hucks grabbed five rebounds and he, Mayorga and Kenny Onyechi combined for 10 critical bench points.
“For those guys when they get called upon to respond like they did in an elimination game, give all the credit to them,” Ferry said.
The advantage at the line was classic LIU basketball under Jim Ferry. The Blackbirds attempted 30 free throws compared to just 10 for the Bobcats. The 22-5 advantage in points from the charity stripe provided the cushion LIU needed to survive a 4-19 shooting night from three.
All of this sets up a dramatic NEC finale between the two teams that most observers thought were the class of the league coming into the season. It should be a battle for 40 minutes between two very talented teams. No matter the situation LIU won’t be out of it.