A two-headed monster burst forth in Brooklyn on Thursday evening as the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds rode 25 points from Jerome Frink and another 23 points from Martin Hermannsson to an 84-79 victory over Maine in their home opener.
LIU Brooklyn is now 2-0 on the young season after a dramatic opening win over Loyola (MD). It’s a big change from last season when the Blackbirds started 0-6.
“Two-and-oh certainly beats oh-and-six,” said LIU head coach Jack Perri. “I think this year there’s been good and bad in both our wins, but certainly I think we’re getting there and I think you can see we have some pieces. We have some talent. We have some depth. We have some size.”
Part of the difference is that Frink, a transfer from Florida International, is on the court instead of sitting out. The athletic 6’8 forward had the block that helped jumpstart the final play against Loyola, but he never got into an offensive rhythm against the Greyhounds. That certainly wasn’t a problem on Thursday, as Frink knocked down a three-pointer from the left wing on LIU’s first possession and never looked back. He finished 9-11 from the field and added nine rebounds in 28 minutes.
“My first game it was my first time back after a year so I had jitters going through me the whole time. I rushed my game I didn’t take my time,” Frink said. “This game I decided to take my time. See what’s open for me and look for my teammates.”
The only thing that managed to slow Frink all night were some hamstring and calf cramps midway through the second half, but he was able to shake them off and make a big difference down the stretch. His powerful dunk with 47 seconds remaining put the Blackbirds up seven and sealed the contest.
Frink also had a lot of help from his Icelandic sidekick Hermannsson. The sweet-shooting sophomore scored 23 points on an efficient 14 shots-and an excellent 9-11 from the free throw line. Hermannsson spent most of his 35 minutes playing off the ball, but sometimes had to slide into the point guard position when Perri used bigger lineups.
Theoretically, the addition of junior college transfer Aakim Saintil should free up Hermannsson to stay off the ball. Saintil was the third Blackbird in double-figures with 12 points. He also had four assists, four rebounds and four steals. The only blemish was seven turnovers, most of which came from being over aggressive on strong drives into the paint.
“He causes havoc on the defensive end with his on-the-ball defense,” Perri said about Saintil. “We’ve got to get him a little more disciplined in the quarter court defensively, but he’s got great ability that way. His turnovers, he was just trying to do a little bit too much. I think he was just excited playing back home.”
Another welcome change for the Blackbirds was some strong defensive effort. After Maine’s dribble-drive offense gave LIU fits in the first half the Blackbirds defended better in the second, including being much strong on the defensive glass. Much of that was due to the work of Nura Zanna. Zanna had seven defensive rebounds, all in the second half, after missing most of the first 20 minutes with foul trouble. He helped limit Maine’s second-chance opportunities and allowed LIU to get moving up-and-down the court offensively.
“We talked about at halftime, we’ve got to get some stops,” Hermannsson said. We’ve got to start boxing out. I thought [Zanna] did a good job in the second half and coming in getting offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, that’s what we needed.”
It’ll be interesting to see how well LIU’s defense plays moving forward. The Blackbirds played almost entirely matchup zone against Maine and it resulted in some odd mismatches on the perimeter. After the game though Perri reiterated that’s how he wants to play defense and that players like Frink and Julius van Sauers have the athleticism to stay close to guards on the perimeter. It’ll be interesting to see how that works moving forward and how the Blackbirds box out against older, brawnier competition.
For now though the Blackbirds can rest easy—for they’re still part of college basketball’s undefeated—at least until Sunday’s game at the Barclays Center against NC Central.