Brooklyn Boro

Julian Batts’ layup sends LIU to NEC semis

The Sharks squandered a huge lead before knocking off visiting FDU.

March 6, 2020 By John Torenli, Sports Editor
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Having blown a 19-point second-half lead, the Sharks of Long Island University needed a hero to step up and send them to the Northeast Conference semifinals Wednesday night in Downtown Brooklyn.

Julian Batts provided that heroic effort.

The senior guard made an acrobatic driving layup with 0.8 seconds to play as the Sharks eked out a 73-72 quarterfinal triumph over visiting Fairleigh Dickinson in front of 1,432 screaming fans at the Steinberg Wellness Center.

“I was a little apprehensive with the ball on that side of the floor knowing he’d have to drive right, but he did a great job,” LIU Head Coach Derek Kellogg said after Batts sent the Sharks just outside his hometown of Pittsburgh for an NEC semifinal showdown at Robert Morris on Saturday.

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“When you’re trying to win a tournament or championship, you have to have some plays like that,” Kellogg added. “There will probably be two or three more before the actual NEC champion is crowned, so hopefully we’re on the right side of that.”

The Sharks, formerly known as Brooklyn’s Blackbirds, led 55-36 with 13 minutes to play before the Knights mounted an epic comeback that saw them take a 72-71 lead on Elyjah Williams’ three-point play with 22 seconds remaining.

Batts, who has shown a penchant for clutch baskets in crunch time during his career with LIU, had the game in his hands with 3.9 seconds left and made the most of it, driving into the paint and lofting up a soft, arcing shot between several defenders that dropped through the twine.

“I’ve seen him do it four or five different occasions,” Kellogg said. “That Wagner game two years ago he made that driving layup. He made a few more throughout his career. He made a big three against FDU the other night to seal the game.”

Ty Flowers led a balanced Sharks attack with 21 points, Raiquan Clark added 19 points and Batts finished with 13, none more important that the final two that helped LIU stay alive in pursuit of its second NEC title in three years under Kellogg.

“It’s a great experience,” said Clark. “The main goal is to get back to the NEC Championship. That’s what we have been talking about ever since we lost in the NCAA Tournament two years ago.

“We’re just trying to get back. It’s been a great experience. We’re just trying to keep pushing and get back there.”

St. Francis Brooklyn could have easily joined LIU in the semifinals, but for one bad bounce off the rim.

The Terriers battled tooth and nail with top-seeded Robert Morris in Moon Township, Pa., on Wednesday night, only to see their dreams of advancing come to an end when sophomore guard Larry Moreno’s buzzer-beating jumper rimmed out.

Chauncey Hawkins scored 23 points, but it wasn’t enough as SFC Brooklyn suffered a heartbreaking loss to Robert Morris in Moon Township, Pa., Wednesday, ending the Terriers’ hopes of reaching their first-ever NCAA Tournament. Photo courtesy of SFC Brooklyn Athletics.

The hard-to-swallow 59-58 loss in front of 659 fans at the UPMC Events Center left SFC Head Coach Glenn Braica with a bittersweet feeling.

“You know every time we play them its a war,” Braica noted. “I was really proud of them. One bounce of the ball you know we’re all hooting and hollering. If the ball bounces a little bit to the right or the left, we’re all jumping around celebrating. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”

The Terriers were on the verge of becoming the first-ever No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 in the 39-year history of the tournament after overcoming a 14-point deficit.

Junior Chauncey Hawkins led the ultimately ill-fated comeback with 23 points and senior Deniz Celen and grad student Unique McLean added 10 points apiece for SFC, which continues to be one of only four Division I men’s basketball programs never to have reached the NCAA Tournament.

“We congratulate Robert Morris,” Braica said. “I thought they played a good game. They do a great job and we wish them the best of luck in the playoffs.”

Saturday’s LIU-RMU game in Moon Township is scheduled for a 2 p.m. tip-off, with the winner facing the team that advances at the semi-finals.

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