Two to go for NCAA-starved Terriers after SFC beats LIU
SFC Brooklyn Holds off LIU, 79-70, in NEC Tournament Opener
The 972 Downtown basketball fanatics that stuffed themselves into the Pope Center on Wednesday night sounded more like 50,000, according to St. Francis Brooklyn head coach Glenn Braica.
“We’ve played in some great atmospheres this year, but nothing like this. This was crazy,” Braica intimated after his top-seeded Terriers moved within two wins of the Remsen Street school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth with a gritty 79-70 victory over neighborhood rival LIU-Brooklyn in the opening round of the NEC Tournament.
“I’ve been in the Carrier Dome (Syracuse’s 49,262-seat arena), but I’m telling you these little gyms are worse,” added Braica, who guided the Terriers to their first NEC Tournament victory in nine tries dating to 2003, when he was an assistant under then-head coach and current SFC assistant Ron Ganulin.
“When you get a place like this going, it’s an adjustment for both teams. The school has done a great job getting people excited. This was sold out yesterday. It’s great. It’s fun for the school.”
Senior guard and borough native Brent Jones made sure the fun continued, leading the charge with 31 points on 8-of-16 shooting while hitting all but two of his 14 free-throw attempts.
NEC Player of the Year Jalen Cannon added 15 points and 15 rebounds as St. Francis overcame a fast start by the Blackbirds and held LIU off down the stretch to complete a three-game season sweep in the Battle for Brooklyn series.
“It means a lot to beat LIU,” noted Cannon, who posted his league-high 19th double-double despite being double-teamed throughout. “It was finally good to get them three times in a row. Tonight’s crowd was crazy. It felt like we were back at Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. It got loud. The fans were great and it got us pumped up.”
Senior Landon Atterberry carried the load for LIU, pouring in 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but the youth-driven Blackbirds committed 15 turnovers while forcing only eight in their return to the tournament they so thoroughly dominated earlier this decade with a record three consecutive NEC titles.
“I was proud of our guys today,” Braica said. “I knew it was going to be a war, a tough physical game. They got on us early. They surrounded Jalen early and we couldn’t score. Give our guys a lot of credit. We really got it going at the end of the first half. All of the guys on our bench gave us a boost and they all did a great job.”
One of only five Division I teams in existence to have not reached the NCAA Tournament since its inception in 1948, the Terriers are close enough to taste their ultimate goal.
But Braica, whose “one practice at a time, one possession at a time, one game at a time” mantra has served his team so well this season, isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“If our best is good enough (to get to the NCAAs), that’s great,” the fifth-year coach insisted. “If not, that’s life.”
See you on Saturday!
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