LIU-Brooklyn men’s basketball begins quest for NEC repeat
Blackbirds start title defense at Sacred Heart following big win over Fordham
Raiquan Clark refused to let the LIU-Brooklyn men’s basketball team enter the all-important conference portion of its schedule on a three-game losing streak.
The senior slasher scored 19 of his team-high 23 points in the second half as the Blackbirds rallied from a 12-point deficit to upend Fordham, 60-57, in their final non-conference tilt before officially beginning defense of their Northeast Conference championship Thursday night at Sacred Heart.
Clark, who was named NEC Player of the Week for his epic post-intermission performance, iced the much-needed victory at the line, draining four straight free throws before Antwon Portley’s desperation heave at the buzzer fell short.
LIU (6-6) is only behind neighborhood rival St. Francis Brooklyn (8-5) in the league’s overall standings, but those records won’t matter much come NEC Tournament time.
Last season, the Blackbirds entered the single-elimination playoff as the No. 5 seed and posted three straight wins, including a stunning 10-point upset of No. 1 Wagner in the NEC Final, to grab a trip to the NCAA Tournament in Derek Kellogg’s first year at the helm.
Though they fell to Radford in the NCAA play-in game, the season was a huge success following the abrupt and unexpected firing of former head coach Jack Perri, who guided the Blackbirds to the last of their record three straight NEC crowns back in 2013.
Tabbed to finish third in this year’s NEC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Blackbirds proved once again Sunday night that they are never to be underestimated.
Down by seven points with just over five minutes remaining in front of 1,538 fans at Rose Hill, the Blackbirds came roaring back behind six straight points from Clark and junior Julius van Sauer’s 3-pointer, which knotted the contest at 5-5 with 2:20 to go.
Ivan Raut’s layup on the other end gave Fordham (9-4) the lead for the final time before Clark provided the final surge from the charity stripe.
Sophomore forward Ty Flowers posted his second straight double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds for LIU, which overcame 18 turnovers despite forcing only five giveaways from the Rams.
The Blackbirds swept two games from Sacred Heart last season, including a 69-60 triumph in Fairfield, Connecticut, where they will open their two-game NEC trip.
Following their conference-opening clash with the Pioneers, the Blackbirds will head to Smithfield, Rhode Island to visit Bryant on Saturday afternoon.
SFC Brooklyn, still chasing its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth, will begin that quest Thursday night at Bryant against the struggling Bulldogs (3-8).
Grad student guard Glenn Sanabria and the rest of the Terriers won both meetings with Bryant last year en route to a 10-8 NEC campaign that ended with a humbling 17-point defeat at LIU-Brooklyn in the opening round of the NEC Tournament.
Heartened by their strong run in non-conference play, head coach Glenn Braica’s squad is doubtlessly eager to shake off its No. 7 ranking in the preseason conference poll.
“We’ve had a nice non-conference season, but right now it’s back to 0-0,” Braica insisted after SFC blew out Manhattan at the Pope Center on Dec. 23 in its non-conference finale.
“We have to start all over again,” added Braica. “It’s no time to rest on your laurels or step back and relax. We just have to keep working and stay healthy and keep getting better every day.”
The Terriers and Blackbirds will begin their regular-season series Jan. 21 at the Steinberg Wellness Center before meeting again on Remsen Street on Valentine’s Day.
Over at Brooklyn College, the men’s team will also return to action Thursday night following an extended holiday break.
The Bulldogs (6-4) haven’t played since suffering their third consecutive defeat, a 76-63 non-conference setback to William Patterson University at the West Quad Center on Jan. 14.
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