Jashaun Agosto misses his first eight shots from the field, but he knocked down two big free throws as LIU Brooklyn came back from nine points down at halftime to defeat Fairleigh Dickinson 78-77 in an entertaining affair at the Steinberg Center on Saturday afternoon.
The fourth-seeded Blackbirds advance to the NEC finals against either Wagner or Robert Morris with the victory.
Agosto, LIU’s precocious sophomore point guard, didn’t hit a shot until 15:19 remained in the game. He finished 2-13 from the field for 8 points, but also had 6 assists and one turnover in 38 minutes.
“I told Jashaun to keep being aggressive, keep attacking and prove that you are the guy,” said LIU head coach Derek Kellogg. “Prove that you are the guy that can keep this engine going.”
After sophomore forward Kaleb Bishop missed two free throws for FDU with nine seconds remaining, Agosto took off for the rim. His runner didn’t go down, but he calmly knocked down two clutch free throws to give the Blackbirds their final one-point margin.
Bishop finished with 19 points and 22 rebounds in 39 minutes. And after the game it wasn’t Bishop that FDU Greg Herenda blamed.
“We lost the game because we didn’t stop the ball on the final possession,” Herenda said.
Agosto also helped out the Blackbirds by spending a large portion of the second half chasing Darnell Edge around the perimeter. The junior guard scored 23 points for the Knights, but Agosto was at least able to make him work for those points down the stretch.
“I thought he did a great job of making it hard for [Edge] down the stretch,” Kellogg said about Agosto’s defense.
LIU’s offense was carried by Raiquan Clark and Joel Hernandez. The two All-NEC performers scored 28 and 25 points respectively for the Blackbirds. Both were tough covers for an FDU lineup with a lot of bulk, but not as much quickness up front.
“I was just trying to fight,” Clark said. “We weren’t going to let someone out tough us or someone out work us. We weren’t going to let that happen today.”
Every time Hernandez, LIU’s senior leader, knocked down a shot the Steinberg Center erupted.
“They’ve done a great job supporting us throughout the postseason,” Hernandez said about the crowd. “I love playing here.”
FDU led by nine at halftime because LIU went cold from distance in the first half. The Blackbirds were just 3-15 from 3 in the first half, with Agosto and fellow sophomore Julian Batts combining to go just 1-9. It was a different story in the second half. The Blackbirds shot 6-12 from distance after the break.
“We got pretty much the same shots we got the other night, we just hadn’t made any,” Kellogg said about the first half.
LIU also survived despite a weird technical foul that was called in the middle of crunch time. The LIU bench received a technical foul with the Blackbirds up seven with six minutes remaining, apparently for having an assistant coach that came out onto the court. Edge hit both free throws and FDU eventually led by as many as four points late, but LIU worked through the adversity for the victory.
FDU had one final shot to win the game after Agosto’s free throws, but the Knights were unable to generate the look they wanted going to the basket and Noah Morgan’s half-court attempt was wide left.
Still, FDU has a lot to be proud of. The Knights were picked to finish second in the NEC, but that was under the assumption that NEC Player of the Year candidate Darian Anderson would be available for his senior season. Instead, a foot injury cost Anderson all but 13 games and Herenda had to rebuild his roster on the fly.
He did it by maxing out a rotation that didn’t have a single senior. The Knights battled without Anderson and took down all of the NEC contenders at least once down the stretch before toppling Saint Francis U. in a dramatic quarterfinal.
Now they’ll go into the 2018 offseason knowing exactly where they stand and ready to compete again for an NEC title next season with a talented frontline and guards that have NEC regular season and tournament experience.
And while Anderson wasn’t able to be on the court, he kept pushing his teammates.
“Our team came together and it was really special,” Herenda said. “And Darian Anderson has to get credit at the end of the bench. He should get a stipend for coaching because he down there coaching everybody and helping me.”
And that foundation is why the Knights will be back.