By John Torenli
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A pair of spirited comebacks, including one in the first college basketball game ever at Downtown’s Barclays Center, weren’t enough as defending Northeast Conference champion LIU-Brooklyn opened its season with two narrow defeats at the hands of Morehead State and Lafayette, respectively.
The Blackbirds (0-2) nearly made up an 11-point deficit in the final three minutes of Friday evening’s 77-74 defeat to Morehead State. But C.J. Garner’s bid for a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer bounded off the rim, spoiling new coach Jack Perri’s debut on the LIU bench and snapping the team’s 27-game home winning streak.
“I thought we did a good job of wearing LIU-Brooklyn down with our pace,” noted Eagles coach Sean Woods, who treated his team to a special visit from Morehead State alum and former Giants Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms moments before hitting the Barclays floor.
Eager to bounce back Monday night in Easton, Pa., against Lafayette, the Blackbirds again found themselves trailing in the late stages of regulation before Garner made a layup with 18 seconds remaining to force overtime. Unfortunately, LIU was outscored, 9-5, in the extra session en route to a tough 98-94 loss.
Senior forward Jamal Olasewere scored 26 points in the opener and added 25 points and 11 rebounds at Lafayette, but the Blackbirds were still seeking their first win of the season entering Friday night’s visit to Maryland in College Park.
The game against the Terps will be LIU’s final tune-up before a trip to Lexington to take on defending national champion Kentucky on Nov. 23.
The Wildcats followed the Blackbirds’ gut-wrenching loss to Morehead State by edging Maryland, 72-69, in last weekend’s Barclays headliner.
Before the much-anticipated game, Kentucky coach John Calipari presented a check for $1 million to the Red Cross to help local victims of Superstorm Sandy.
The Wildcats don’t figure to be nearly as generous when the Blackbirds head down south in 10 days for one of the highest-profile games in LIU-Brooklyn history.
The St. Francis Terriers didn’t have much trouble getting out of Easton with a win last Friday, defeating Lafayette, 76-65, in their season opener behind 15 points from senior center Akeem Johnson.
Sophomore forward Jalen Cannon added 13 points and 13 rebounds for St. Francis, which dropped to 1-1 Monday night with an 89-64 loss to Illinois in Champagne, Ill.
“I’m really pleased with how our guys grinded out this win,” said Glen Braica, the Terriers’ reigning NEC Coach of the Year after the victory over the Leopards.
Next up for St. Francis is the home opener against Army Nov. 20 on Remsen Street.
The St. Francis ladies gave first-year coach John Thurston a victory in his debut Monday night against Army’s Black Knights, pulling out a 59-47 triumph in West Point, N.Y.
Sophomore guard Eilidh Simpson had 14 points and six rebounds for the Terriers, who won their first season opener since 2007, and first on the road since 2004.
St. Francis will begin its home slate Friday night against visiting Delaware State at the Pope Center.
The LIU women’s hoops squad, which was scheduled to visit Albany Tuesday night, got its campaign off with a 53-42 win at Columbia last Friday night.
Senior Krystal Wells poured in 23 points for the Blackbirds (1-0), who held the Lady Lions to just 17 second-half points.
In other LIU-Brooklyn sports news, the women’s volleyball team finished conference play with a perfect 16-0 record, and will host the upcoming NEC Tournament, beginning with Saturday’s matchup against fourth-seeded St. Francis (Pa.) at the Wellness Center.
If they can get past the Red Flash, LIU will host either Robert Morris or Central Connecticut State in Sunday’s NEC Championship.
The LIU women’s soccer team, fresh off its second straight NEC Championship, was ousted in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament following Saturday night’s 4-0 loss to No. 3 Penn State in State College, Pa.
"Obviously we're very proud of the program and getting back here twice," Blackbirds head coach Tracey Bartholomew said. "Our girls battled hard to the end and I'm very proud of their effort."
The Brooklyn College men’s basketball team will kick off its season Friday in Newark against Rutgers-Newark as part of the John K. Adams Tip-Off Classic. The Bulldogs, who will host their home opener Dec. 3 against Fairleigh Dickinson, hope to bounce back from a disappointing early exit from last year’s CUNYAC Championships and a runner-up finish in the ECAC Tournament.
“We feel that we are ready to really shock the conference this year by not only remaining competitive, but making a serious run at the CUNYAC Championship,” said BC coach Steve Podias, who is entering his 19th season with the Bulldogs
“With our combination of returning stalwarts and new bodies, we feel we are going to be a team that no one will want to play against,” added Podias. “The 2012-2013 Brooklyn Bulldogs will look to be fiercely competitive on every possession of every game, relying on our depth and athleticism to make teams uncomfortable. If we are able to play to our full potential, we expect to be exactly where we want to be come February, at the top of the CUNYAC once again."