Reigning champion Blackbirds still alive
Clark leads LIU-Brooklyn past Sacred Heart in NEC tourney opener
LIU-Brooklyn’s bid to return to March Madness continued Wednesday night in Fairfield, Connecticut, as the reigning Northeast Conference champion Blackbirds rode senior Raiquan Clark’s 21-point performance to a 71-62 victory over Sacred Heart in the opening round of the NEC Tournament at the Pitt Center.
Clark, a top candidate for NEC Player of the Year honors, went 7-of-13 from the floor and 6-of-9 at the free-throw line while grabbing six rebounds as the sixth-seeded Blackbirds (16-15) kept alive their hopes for back-to-back conference crowns.
“I thought coming in that both teams have been playing very well,” LIU head coach Derek Kellogg noted after his team advanced to the semifinals to face top-seeded St. Francis University in Loretto Park, Pennsylvania, on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“Sacred Heart does a great job in transition, and they are a very well-coached team, but fortunately, we were able to come out victorious in a hard-fought victory in a game that was very competitive.”
Sophomore Eral Penn scored a career-high 15 points and ripped down a game-high nine rebounds and junior Jashaun Agosto added 15 points for LIU, which held Sacred Heart to a dismal 2-of-19 shooting performance from long range while draining 11 of its 24 attempts from beyond the arc.
“One of my coaching philosophies would be to be a good three-point defensive team and that hasn’t held true until about five games ago,” noted Kellogg, who is hoping to lead the Blackbirds to their first back-to-back NEC crowns since they won a record-setting three titles in a row from 2011-13.
“We paid a little more attention to detail, and I thought our length [along] the perimeter with Ty Flowers and Eral and Raiquan can really effect some three-point shooting.”
The Blackbirds, who made a spirited run to the NCAA Tournament during Kellogg’s first season at the helm a year ago, appear to have saved their best for last for the second straight campaign.
LIU will be riding a season-high four-game winning streak into its showdown with the Red Flash (17-13), who held off a late rally Wednesday night to get past Bryant in the first round.
The Blackbirds split a pair of regular-season meetings with SFU, dropping a 74-67 decision to the Red Flash here in Downtown Brooklyn on Jan. 10 before beginning its current winning streak with a 69-66 triumph in Loretto Park on Feb. 23.
“They are long and athletic. They have some talented kids,” SFU head coach Rob Krimmel said of the Blackbirds.
“They can score in a variety of ways. They came in and won the controllable battles [the last time we faced them]. They outrebounded us. They outhustled us. We have to clean up those factors coming into Saturday’s game.”
Unfortunately, St. Francis Brooklyn was unable to reach the NEC semifinals Wednesday night, suffering a tough 69-65 overtime loss at Robert Morris in Moon Township,Pennsylvania.
Graduate guard Glenn Sanabria scored a team-high 15 points, handed out five assists and picked up four steals for the fifth-seeded Terriers (17-15), who saw their season come to an end despite building a 15-point halftime lead on the Colonials (17-15).
“We’ve had a couple of theses recently where we played really well in the first half and weren’t able to finish it out,” said SFC head coach Glenn Braica after falling just short yet again in guiding the Remsen Street school to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. “It’s a little disheartening.”
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