Five minutes at the end of the first half dropped a young LIU team into a hole they couldn’t climb out of against Lehigh Saturday at the Wellness Center. The Blackbirds were unable to ever capture the lead in the second half and fell 80-76 to the Mountain Hawks.
The loss drops the Blackbirds’ record to 0-6 on the season. LIU’s next chance for a victory is next Sunday against NJIT. Here are three thoughts from the game:
The final five minutes of the first half really showed how inexperienced this LIU team is, and how much the team will have to grow in order to be competitive in the NEC: Lehigh’s star player, center Tim Kempton, picked up his second foul with a little more than five minutes to play in the first half and LIU leading by four. It should’ve been an excellent opportunity for the Blackbirds to extend their lead. Instead the Mountain Hawks charged ahead and led by three at halftime, 34-31.
“There were some poor decisions offensively, which has been a theme for this group for six games,” LIU head coach Jack Perri said about the stretch. “Poor shot decisions, shot times to attack the defense and they’re still learning. We didn’t have a preseason where we got some continuity so we’re still in that process.”
A key factor in those five minutes was the poor play of LIU’s bench. Perri received very little help on Saturday from anyone outside of his starting five. During those final five minutes of the half LIU’s Nura Zanna was also on the bench due to foul trouble and his replacements had a hard time containing Lehigh on the glass. Trevin Woods and Iverson Fleming struggled in the guard spots during their time on the court. Which leads me to my second point.
LIU’s bench needs to step up: One if the intriguing things about Perri’s team is just how many freshmen are on the roster this season. Three have worked their way into the starting lineup (Elvar Fridriksson, Martin Hermannsson and Nura Zanna). Three more are part of a diverse group off the bench and all of the youngsters not in the starting five really struggled on Saturday. LIU was out scored 21-6 by Lehigh in bench points. Two of LIU’s veterans, Glenn Feidanga and Joel Hernandez, did provide decent production off the bench. Feidanga was returning from injury and only played 19 minutes, but he drew a few charges and looked strong around the basket.
Hernandez looks like the Hulk compared to his teammates given the time he’s been able to spend in a collegiate weight room and even though he was forced to play out of position at power forward at times on Saturday, still he used his strength and athleticism to grab six rebounds.
“He’s needs to be good. He needs to be focused,” Perri said about the 6’3″ sophomore. “He’s a guy that has the ability to get fouled a ton. He’s got a good ability to handle the ball. He’s got to make good decisions offensively. When to attack and how to attack. I think he tries to get his shot off more than attack guys bodies.”
LIU needs another player or two beyond Feidanga and Hernandez to round out the rotation. Perri is looking to get more out a few of those freshmen, including Trevin Woods.
“I need Trevin to figure this out a little bit because he’s got a world of potential. He’s just got to figure it out and gain some confidence,” Perri said.
LIU really struggled against penetration on defense: Lehigh’s freshman point guard Kahron Ross had the best game of his young career in the win. While Fridriksson worked hard to stay in front his is prone to gambling a bit too much in the man-to-man and at the top of the LIU’s zone. Whether Fridriksson gambled or not, Ross found seams to create havoc. He finished 5-9 from the floor and then helped ice the game during the final few minutes by going 8-9 from the charity stripe (part of an impressive overall 28-32 effort, all in the second half, for Lehigh). Ross’ ability to penetrate opened up opportunities for Lehigh because even in the 2-3 zone LIU was slow on help rotations on players diving to the basket. That’s what created all those free throws. Ross is going to give lots of Patriot League opponents fits for years to come, but LIU will have to tighten up defensively or NEC point guards such as Saint Francis’ Malik Harmon, St. Francis Brooklyn’s Brent Jones and others will be able to knock LIU all out of sorts.
“I think penetration is a big issue,” Perri said. “He’s tough. That kid is quick. We wanted to force [Ross] to his left and he was getting to his right a little too easy.”
Things don’t get much easier during non-conference for the Blackbirds. They will catch NJIT in its fourth game in nine days when the Highlanders come to Brooklyn, but it’s certainly not an easy win — just ask Michigan. Beyond that Hofstra and FIU at Barclays are tough and Maine and New Hampshire are on the road. A couple unlucky breaks and LIU might still be looking for that elusive first win come NEC play. That said, the Blackbirds still possess some of the most intriguing young talent in the NEC. They just have to get on the same page.
Bonus Thought: Martin Hermannsson is a treat to watch. The 6’3″ shooting guard from Iceland has struggled with his shot a bit early in the season, and while he was 1-5 from three against Lehigh, he found other ways to score. He’s a creative dribbler and relentless going to the basket. Hermannsson should be able to find his way to the rim against NEC frontlines and will be big time scorer for LIU. He finished with 19 points on 6-13 shooting (and 6-7 shooting from the free throw line), three assists and three turnovers in 31 minutes on Saturday.