Brooklyn Boro

Battle for Brooklyn begins borough’s March madness

St. Francis and LIU Collide in Epic First-Round NEC Encounter

March 4, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers hope to take their first step toward the NCAA Tournament Wednesday night at Remsen Street's Pope Center against their neighborhood rivals from LIU-Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of SFC-Brooklyn Athletics
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Winning their first league championship in 11 years and receiving the top overall seed in the Northeast Conference Tournament earned the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers some long-awaited recognition and respect.

It also set them up for an epic NEC quarterfinal showdown Wednesday night against none other than their neighborhood rivals from LIU-Brooklyn in what might just go down as the most significant meeting ever between the Downtown programs.

The top-seeded Terriers (21-10, 15-3 NEC) and No. 8 Blackbirds (12-17, 8-10) will square off at the sold-out Pope Center on Remsen Street for the right to advance to the NEC semifinals, to be hosted on the home court of the highest remaining seed on Saturday.

St. Francis, one of only five remaining Division I programs to have never reached the NCAA Tournament, has appeared destined to do just that throughout this storied campaign.

Not only did the Terriers recover from an early 0-5 start by going 21-5 the rest of the way, they also knocked off the Blackbirds twice en route to doing so, including a 74-69 come-from-behind overtime triumph at the Pope on Feb. 26.

But SFC, which has endured some difficult NEC Tournament losses in years past, can ill-afford to see its dreams of March Madness shattered in the opening round, much less against the Blackbirds, who reeled off a record three consecutive NEC titles from 2011-13.

“I expect our match-up with LIU-Brooklyn to be just like every other game with them, one that is hotly contested,” said SFC head coach Glenn Braica, who has led the Terriers into five consecutive NEC Tournaments, but is still seeking his first-ever victory in the single-elimination affair.

“[The Blackbirds] are not your typical No. 8 seed and we certainly are not going to take them lightly,” added Braica, who was an assistant coach on the last Terriers team to win an NEC Tournament game back in 2003.

“They have a tremendous amount of talent and are well-coached. We played two very close games with them this season and were very fortunate to come away with two wins. This will be a unique atmosphere and I’m sure it will be a great game to watch for those that are lucky enough to get in.”

Spearheaded by NEC Player of the Year Jalen Cannon, the school’s all-time leader in scoring and rebounding, and senior point guard Brent Jones, the Terriers have already ended one extended drought by automatically qualifying for the NIT Tournament.

St. Francis hasn’t played in a postseason tournament since competing in the 1963 NIT.

But the Terriers know full well that they are expected to make a serious run at the NCAAs, and anything short of that will be a disappointment to SFC fans, and players like Cannon, who have toiled in virtual obscurity prior to this season.

Even if Braica isn’t buying into any do-or-die scenarios.

“I’m very proud of this team. No matter what happens in the NEC Tournament we’ve had a tremendous year,” he insisted. “We’ll play in the postseason for the first time since 1963, which is a big deal. I was a little concerned we might get beaten down early by the losing and starting out 0-5. I told the team, this will either break us or make us better. It made us better, which is a great reflection on them.”

As for the Blackbirds, who missed out on the NEC Tournament a year ago following their dynastic three-peat, this game serves as an opportunity not only to play spoiler against St. Francis, but to gain some postseason experience for a youthful roster.

“Last year, not making the playoffs, this was one of our goals to get back into the playoffs. And now, don’t be satisfied with that.” said LIU-Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri, who won it all during his first season at the helm in 2012-13 after serving as an assistant and key recruiter under Jim Ferry during the previous two titles.

Led by the Icelandic freshman backcourt tandem of Martin Hermannsson and Elvar Fridriksson, the Blackbirds rotate at least six underclassmen, and as many eight, during the course of a game.

That bodes well for LIU’s future, but Perri and his players are focused on the now.

“We just played St. Francis Brooklyn, so we know exactly what we’re preparing for,” Perri intimated. “I think our guys should have confidence going into this game that they can beat this team. They have to play with unbelievable focus and a sense of urgency, like we did a few days ago.”

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