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LIU’s lost weekend provides hope for future

Men’s, Women’s Hoop Squads Both Ousted from NEC Tournament

March 8, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Junior Joel Hernandez scored 19 points, but LIU-Brooklyn dropped its NEC Tournament semifinal showdown at top-seeded Wagner on Saturday afternoon. Photo courtesy of LIU-Brooklyn Athletics

Two regular-season wins over top-seeded Wagner, and a second-half lead on the Seahawks in the Northeast Conference semifinals Saturday afternoon weren’t enough to carry the LIU-Brooklyn men’s basketball team back to the NEC Championship Game.

“This is a tale of two halves,” Blackbirds head coach Jack Perri lamented following his team’s 81-65 loss in front of 1,814 fans at Staten Island’s Spiro Sports Center.

“I thought we came out with a great sense of urgency, playing the right way,” added Perri, whose squad held a 33-29 advantage at the break, only to get outscored, 52-32, following the intermission.

“Our game plan was to go inside and be aggressive and attack and we did that. I thought defensively we were pretty focused, we did a good job with understanding their personnel and limiting their second chances. We talked about second chances and their transition points, and I think that’s why we had the lead at halftime.”

Junior Joel Hernandez scored 19 points, fellow third-year forward Jerome Frink added 14 and redshirt sophomore center Nura Zanna finished with 11 for LIU, which topped Sacred Heart in last week’s quarterfinal round before getting steamrolled by the Seahawks in the second half Saturday.

“In the second half, we started out fine and then ran into some foul trouble,” Perri ceded. “They are the No. 1 team for a reason, and they did a really good job defending us … They completely outplayed us in the second half and they earned the win. Great job by them.”

The good news for Perri is that he will likely have Hernandez, Frink, Zanna, junior guard Aakim Saintil and sophomore point guard Martin Hermannsson back for another shot at the NEC crown next season.

The Blackbirds, who went on a historic three-year run as league champions from 2010-13, are on the brink of recapturing their former glory with Perri’s current crew.

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“Before I talk about us, I have to give LIU a lot of credit, a team we struggled with all season, very talented and hard playing,” admitted Wagner head coach Bashir Mason, whose top-seeded unit was slated to host No. 2 Fairleigh Dickinson in Tuesday night’s NEC title game.

Michael Carey amassed a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds for Wagner, which will be vying for its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2003.

“I coach my guys hard, but I didn’t know how we were going to match up against them,” added Mason, citing the Seahawks’ two regular-season defeats to LIU.

“They present a ton of problems for us. Our guys, we fought, we battled, in the first half our defense kept us around, in the second half the ball went in the hole a little more for us and our defense remained the same as well as our rebounding. And we were able to pull out a really good win against a championship-caliber team.”

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The LIU women, who entered the NEC Tournament as a No. 7 seed under first-year coach Stephanie Oliver, got sent home in Sunday’s quarterfinal round with a 70-56 defeat at the hands of second-seeded Bryant before 356 fans in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

Junior Shanovia Dove did her best to keep the Blackbirds in contention, finishing with a game-high 28 points.

Senior Shanice Vaughan added eight points for LIU, which led 17-13 after the opening period but was outscored, 24-9, in the second quarter.

“I’m really proud of what our girls did today, coming out and grabbing a lead after the first quarter is something that gave us confidence in the game,” said Oliver, who guided the Blackbirds to a 7-11 mark in conference play.

“We told our seniors and all of our players in the locker room that it is not easy to have a whole new coaching staff come in and have veteran players buy in to a new regime,” she added. “It started off slow for sure, but I think they did buy in to what we were coaching down the stretch, and it was really nice to see their hard work pay off with this postseason berth.”

At 9-21 overall for the third consecutive season, the Blackbirds were hoping to advance beyond the first round of the tourney for the first time since losing the NEC title game on their home floor in 2010.

LIU will get to chase that goal again beginning next season with key returning players like Dove, and a better understanding of exactly what Oliver wants from the team.

“They gave us their all in each and every game,” Oliver noted. “We didn’t have too many double-digit losses this year which shows the leadership and effort from our seniors trickle down to all the players. That is a really good Bryant team that is so difficult to play. We lost to them three times this year and each game was a tough physical outing, I really do wish them the best of luck.”

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