To the casual fan observing from afar, nothing probably seemed amiss with LIU Brooklyn’s effort after nearly 28 minutes of play in Emmitsburg, MD. Despite getting limited contributions from Jamal Olasewere and Jason Brickman, the first place Blackbirds were leading the Mount, 53-50. E.J. Reed scored 20 first half points and had the team playing with a little cockiness and swagger you’d expect from the back-to-back defending champs.
The only problem was head coach Jack Perri wasn’t buying it one bit. To him, the three-point lead was a farce, a mere aberration based on what he had seen out of his team earlier in the week.
“For the first week in a while, our guys didn’t prepare the same way, they didn’t care the same way,” said a disappointed Perri after the game. “We did a good job of [preparing] since the Wagner game and we struggled with that this week. For whatever the reason, we were out of it. I tried to warn them. I tried to get them ready…I could see this coming.”
So when LIU lost their second half lead in the blink of an eye, it came as no surprise to the first year head coach. Three consecutive three-pointers by Kelvin Parker and Rashad Whack sparked a 9-0 run and gave the Mount a six point advantage midway through the second half. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish to the delight of the feverish crowd on hand.
One person’s delight though is another person’s dismay, and Perri was clearly disgusted at his team’s execution in two facets: The 20 turnovers Mount St. Mary’s forced throughout the game and their porous perimeter defense that allowed the Mount to sink 11 of 25 three-pointers, including six rainmakers from junior Rashad Whack.
Whack led the Mountaineers with 26 points – 16 of them in the pivotal second half – to go along with three assists and three steals. It was the eleventh time this season Whack led the Mount in scoring for the game, and the fourth time the junior had broken the 20 point barrier.
In all, five Mount players logged an efficiency rating north of ten for the game, but it was Jamion Christian mainly praising the inside presence of 6’8″ center Raven Barber as a key catalyst for the team’s second half run.
“Raven Barber was an unbelievable force,” said Christian. “We challenged him [to produce] in the under eight timeout to just do more. Fly around, play with some freedom and he did that. I definitely thought he was the difference in the game.”
After playing ten uneventful minutes in the first half, Barber stepped in and sparked the Mount with eight points and six rebounds in the second stanza. His toughness, along with freshman Shivaughn Wiggins, helped keep the Blackbirds at bay on offense, holding them to a respectable 0.95 points per possession. It was LIU’s second worst offensive output for the conference season.
LIU Brooklyn’s offensive struggles can certainly be pinned on the poor play of Jamal Olasewere and Jason Brickman. Olasewere played a NEC low 20 minutes, as he found himself in constant foul trouble throughout the second half. In fact, when the senior picked up his fourth personal foul (third offensive), the Mount then embarked on a 13-4 run to take a commanding nine-point lead deep into the second half. For Perri, Olasewere was the main culprit for LIU’s lackidasical attitude leading up to the game.
“I’m telling you, this one started well before the game even started,” reiterated Perri. “[Jamal] was one of the big reasons why, I don’t know what it was, but I could sense that he was out of it. I don’t know if he was trying to do too much, he was just out of it. I didn’t see the same Jamal as I know.”
Jason Brickman struggled as well, giving the ball up six times while only scoring 11 points on as many shots. Mount St. Mary’s freshman Shivaughn Wiggins was given the assignment of guarding the best point guard of the NEC, and his coach was incredibly proud of the freshman’s effort.
“I’ve said it time and time again, I don’t think there’s a better on-ball defender in the league,” gushed Christian. “[Shivaughn] did an unbelievable job on [Brickman] tonight. [Shivaughn’s] ability to guard the basketball has really changed the dynamic of our team.”
“Shivaughn just gives you some toughness. He’s not afraid to mix it up and go in there and get some of those crazy rebounds or take a charge. And for 35, 36 minutes, he’s going to guard the other team’s point guard and never need a break. He’s just given our team a different dynamic with the way he can score the ball in the lane.”
Christian gladly continued when asked if Wiggins deserves the NEC Rookie of the Year award at season’s end. “I think there’s no better player in the league as a rookie, because of what he’s done for our team defensively.”
E.J. Reed registered a career high 25 points on 12 shots and corralled a team high nine rebounds in the defeat. The versatile and athletic Reed served as the lone bright spot for the now second place Blackbirds. They’ll travel to Wagner for an enormous Sunday night showdown that should help decide who gets a home playoff game in the first round of the NEC tournament. How will Perri get his team ready for the challenge?
“Hopefully it’s a wakeup call and we’ll see tomorrow and Saturday and get ready for Wagner.”
Mount St. Mary’s will host St. Francis Brooklyn on Saturday, in a pivotal battle that will surely shape the bottom half of the NEC tournament draw. It will be the last home game of the season for Christian’s group, who now holds an excellent 9-2 record at the Mount.