By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Blackbirds of LIU-Brooklyn are still trying to get used to life without reigning Northeast Conference Player of the Year Julian Boyd.
Now, the two-time defending NEC champions will have to get through the next two games , beginning with Thursday night's visit to Sacred Heart, without All-NEC forward Jamal Olasewere, senior guard C.J. Garner and sophomore swingman Troy Joseph as well.
Coming off Saturday afternoon's heartbreaking 81-80 defeat to Lamar in Beaumont, Texas, the Blackbirds (5-7) face the daunting task of shaking off a three-game losing streak while officially beginning defense of the first back-to-back conference crowns in the Downtown school's history.
For first-year coach Jack Perri, who inherited a loaded roster of championship-caliber upperclassmen, the quest to make it three NEC titles in a row promised to be a difficult one even before Boyd, Olasewere, Garner and Joseph earned two-game suspensions for their part in an on-campus brawl back in September.
Losing Boyd to a season-ending knee injury last month certainly didn't increase LIU-Brooklyn's chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.
But no one is going to feel sorry for a program that has put together an astounding 32-4 league record -- not including consecutive perfect runs through the NEC Tournament -- over the past two seasons.
Garner, who missed a potential winning fadeaway jumper as time expired against Lamar, is averaging 11.3 points per game this season. Olasewere, an early candidate to succeed Boyd as the NEC's MVP this year, was netting a team-high 18.7 points and 7.4 board per contest before being forced to sit out the next two games along with his fellow fourth-year starter.
These two major losses, coupled with the ongoing absence of Boyd, leave Perri to find new and creative ways to get the Blackbirds back on track and in the win column for the first time since they completed a season-high five-game winning streak with a 75-48 rout of Manhattan College on Dec. 16 -- their first full game without Boyd, who went down during a 97-70 win at Rice on Dec. 12.
Junior point guard Jason Brickman, senior guard Brandon Thompson and fast-emerging freshman E.J. Reed, the reigning NEC Rookie of the Week, will have to step up at Sacred Heart on Thursday and at Quinnipiac on Saturday until Olasewere and Garner return for next Thursday's league home opener against Wagner.
Brickman, who is averaging 10 points and a team-best 8.2 assists, had 10 points and 11 assists against Lamar. Thompson added 12 points, and Reed came off the bench to score a career-best 14, 13 of which came after intermission when the Blackbirds nearly overcame a nine-point halftime deficit.
A season that began with such great expectations is suddenly on the brink of becoming an injury-plagued, suspension-marred disappointment -- unless, of course, Perri and his players can summon that old Blackbird magic one more time.
The Terriers of St. Francis Brooklyn enter the new year on a two-game winning streak after senior forward Akeem Johnson's dramatic layup with five seconds to play lifted them to an 89-87 victory over NJIT in Newark on Sunday night.
Johnson's drive through the lane capped a 23-point comeback over the final 7:23 for the resilient Terriers (4-7), who will kick off their NEC slate at Quinnipiac on Thursday evening.
Sophomore forward Jalen Cannon scored a game-high 23 points and pulled down 12 rebounds for St. Francis, earning himself NEC Player of the Week honors. Last year's All-NEC Rookie selection currently leads the circuit in rebounding (9.5 per game), field-goal percentage (.636) and ranks fourth in scoring at 17.2 per contest.
The NYU-Poly men's basketball team will return from its winter break to host the Sage Colleges next Monday. The Jays, who are 2-4 this season, including 1-1 in Skyline Conference play, haven't hit the hardwood since losing to Farmingdale, 81-54, on Dec. 1.
On the women's side, LIU-Brooklyn spent three days in Hawaii just before the new year, but lost three in a row to host school Hawaii (52-33), Alabama (80-58) and Cincinnati (59-48) before returning Downtown to prepare for Saturday's NEC opener at Quinnipiac.
Coach Gail Striegler's unit has dropped five of its last six following a 2-3 start to the campaign.
Sophomore Sophie Bashin had a team-high 16 points in Sunday afternoon's loss to the Bearcats as the Blackbirds completed their participation in the annual Rainbow Wahine Invitational. LIU junior Cleandra Roberts was named to the all-tournament team for her efforts during the Blackbirds' trip.
The St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers pulled out a much-needed 58-55 win over Rider in Lawrenceville, N.J., on Saturday afternoon, snapping a season-high eight-game slide under first-year coach John Thurston.
Sophomore forwards Sarah Benedetti and Jaymee Veney scored 16 points apiece for St. Francis Brooklyn, which opens NEC play Saturday at Sacred Heart.
The BC women dropped to 7-3 with a 49-38 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville on Saturday.
Sophomore guard Nicole Francomano scored a team-high nine points for the Lady Bulldogs, who will host Lehman College in CUNYAC action on Saturday at the West Quad Center.
After opening the season 0-5, the NYU-Poly women hope to extend their winning streak to three games when they return from winter break to host CCNY in Downtown Brooklyn on Saturday.
The Lady Jays haven't played since dismantling Yeshiva, 89-50, on Dec. 5 behind a season-high 24 points from senior Shelby Bruns.
In local high school hoops news, the three-time defending PSAL champion Kangaroos (4-4) of Brooklyn's Boys and Girls High School will kick off the 2013 portion of their schedule Thursday against rival Thomas Jefferson (6-1). Coach Ruth Lovelace's unit dropped a 62-50 decision to longtime nemesis and still undefeated Lincoln (7-0) on Dec. 20 in their final game prior to the winter break.
Junior Isaiah Whitehead scored 28 points for the Railsplitters against B&G. Lincoln will also be in action Thursday against fellow unbeaten South Shore (6-0).