For the second time in three games LIU Brooklyn survived. The Blackbirds made the necessary defensive stops down the stretch to come back from a 12-point deficit and pull out a 78-77 victory over North Carolina Central at the Barclays Center on Sunday.
“That’s a good win against a team like the NEC,” Perri said. “And a very good team. A very well coached team. To get that win is nice for that group and certainly prepares us for what we’re going to face in NEC play.”
The Blackbirds remain undefeated after close victories over Loyola (MD) and Maine, but this win was of a different variety. Last season NCCU was undefeated in the MEAC and played in the NIT. The Eagles should be good again this season. They have a number of talented, versatile guards with the ability to attack the basket. One of them is redshirt senior Dante Holmes, who returned to the lineup on Sunday and scored a game-high 26 points before fouling out with 5:01 remaining.
This win is a good example of how things could shape up in a best-case scenario for the Blackbirds during NEC play. A balanced offense with Frink, Hermannsson (who had 15, including a perfect 8-8 from the line), Saintil and Hernandez can be supported by enough defense to pull out tight victories against the top teams in the league. LIU will evolve during the next month and a half, but it appears that Jack Perri just needs to refine his winning formula. (Expect him to do a lot of work on ball containment and boxing out on the defensive end.)
1. Jerome Frink did it again: Jack Perri has to be extremely happy that Frink is off the bench and onto the court. The transfer from Florida International has been a game-changer for the Blackbirds. Frink had another excellent game, scoring 18 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and four blocks, including two on the final possession. Frink, who also had the key block against Loyola, gives the Blackbirds a versatile, athletic forward up front.
“Defensively my main focus was trying to stop the ball because down one there’s a lot on the line,” Frink said about the final defensive play. “So I just stood my ground and I got the block.”
But Frink doesn’t think he has a knack for those plays. He just seems to end up at the perfect place near the end of the game.
“It’s just me being in the right spot at the right time,” he said.
2. The Blackbirds have options: Down 12 with 11:37 to play LIU changed its strategy, going smaller, with Joel Hernandez playing power forward. Hernandez, who is a 6’3″ guard, added some athleticism and toughness to the Blackbirds’ front court in that role. He also found more space on the offensive end, with a key three-pointer and the drive and dunk that tied the game at 71 with 3:46 remaining.
Hernandez allowing LIU to play a smaller lineup is just one example of the versatility of a deep roster that Perri has the ability to employ. Against the Eagles the smaller lineup—with Martin Hermannsson, Frink, Aakim Saintil, Trevon Woods and Hernandez—helped open up the court. The LIU offense flowed much better and did just enough on the glass to make sure NCCU couldn’t find the offense it needed down the stretch.
“I don’t love doing that,” Perri said about going small. “But so far it’s been our best defensive lineup.”
The fact that Perri really trusts Hernandez on the defensive end certainly helps.
“I tell Joel that he has a chance to have Defensive Player of the Year potential,” Perri said. “He so strong and he’s got great lateral quickness and when he’s locked in he’s as good as he gets.”
LIU is legitimately 10 men deep and while the rotation could shorten as the season moves forward the presence of players like Glenn Feidanga, Juilius van Sauers, and the Woods twins should give LIU many looks it can play.
3. This game was called tight: There were 54 fouls called in the game and LIU and NCCU combined to shoot 70 free throws, including 43 for LIU. The Blackbirds stayed in the game in the first half thanks to 15-19 shooting from the charity stripe. Considering all the rule changes there are going to be games like this, even for teams such as LIU that try to avoid fouling at almost all costs.
That can be tricky for aggressive defensive players like Saintil.
“It’s definitely more challenging because you have to pick and choose your spots,” Saintil said about playing defense on the perimeter. “For me, I have to know how the ref is feeling. If he’s not letting me hand check then I have to stay off him. If he’s not letting me body bump then I have to stay away. You just have to know how the ref is calling the game.”
Of course Saintil also took advantage of the freedom the tight officiating afforded him on the offensive end. He was just 1-7 from the field, but finished 12-14 from the line. Saintil was able to continuously drive into the teeth of NCCU’s zone and because the 6’0″ junior is so quick there was nothing the Eagles could do but foul him. Saintil finished with 15 points and four assists in 28 minutes.
“That’s why I kept being aggressive, because I knew anytime [the refs] saw the hands drop that’s a foul,” Saintil said. “So I was okay. On the perimeter it was going to be really hard for them to keep me in front of them, so I stayed with that because I knew the refs were going to call it real tight.”
LIU: 1.10 points per possession, 43% eFG%, 79 FTR, 42% OR%, 10% TO%
NCCU: 1.08 points per possession, 55% eFG%, 50 FTR, 44% OR%, 20% TO%