Last night was my first live look at the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds and, well let’s just say it wasn’t an optimal showing for Jack Perri’s squad. The game started out promising enough with LIU racing out to a 19-11 lead within the first eight minutes. The defending champs of the NEC were running, drawing charges, and Jamal Olasewere was absolutely dominant, registering 12 points on four shots, three rebounds, and one steal in seven minutes. I was ready to witness a possible red-line upset.
But then for whatever the reason, the wheels fell off. Completely. Seton Hall closed out the half on an impressive 37-10 run and never looked back. With only one non-conference game remaining, here are my five thoughts before the Blackbirds begin NEC play the first week of January.
1) The Big Man Must Stay on the Floor – This point has been mentioned numerous times by John and myself, but it bears repeating: LIU will struggle if Jamal Olasewere is forced to miss significant minutes due to foul trouble. The senior again had to sit out a respectable portion of the first half – with Seton Hall going on its backbreaking run – after committing two fouls (one of them a silly hard foul on Seton Hall forward Gene Teague). The senior has to be smarter and more selective when attacking on the defensive end because let’s face it, without Olasewere slashing and creating for teammates, crashing the glass, and running the floor in transition, there are limited opportunities for LIU to find offense, especially given the passive nature of the backcourt. Which leads me to my second point…
2) Please for the Love of God, Shoot It! – Jason Brickman is an all-league type of player, no sane person would question that, yet the point guard needs to expand his role with Boyd now bench-ridden for the remainder of the season. Brickman finished Saturday night’s loss with only one shot attempt, a mystifying number considering the junior’s ability to create off the dribble and knock down a high percentage of outside looks. Through three Boyd-less games, Brickman is averaging three shot attempts per contest. That simply won’t be enough if the Blackbirds want to remain an efficient offense. Brickman needs to force the issue a bit more. I don’t care how awesome his 67.2% eFG% is, if you don’t shoot, it won’t really matter. He needs to get to the rim and stop passing up semi-open looks along the three-point line.
3) It’s Trouble When LIU is Forced to Press – Seton Hall obviously isn’t representative of the NEC competition LIU will face in the next couple of months, but if yesterday was any indication, the Blackbirds need to avoid playing from behind at all costs. When LIU fell behind big to Seton Hall, they were forced to implement a full court pressure defense that frankly wasn’t terribly polished. The press did create a couple of turnovers, yet the damage done on the other end by the Pirates turned the overall scheme into a giant negative. The Pirates had several open looks on the perimeter and converted almost half of them, shooting 47.6% from behind the arc. Inside the paint, it was even uglier at 61.0%. I doubt this was the defense Perri was preaching about after their emotional win over Manhattan.
4) Playing With More Urgency When Trailing – LIU is far more comfortable playing with a lead, rather than behind. It’s a team that builds off momentum, but when an opponent is controlling the tempo of a game, it becomes very difficult for the Blackbird players to push ahead with some urgency. Boyd was that player who wouldn’t let his team lose, but without their superstar, the team plays a little shell-shocked once they’re in a hole. It’s a mentality that Perri could have difficultly changing, so players will need to focus a bit more on forcing the issue when they fall behind. LIU players can’t afford to get down on themselves, especially when faced with an opponent that will bring lots of energy, like Monmouth, Wagner, and Mount St. Mary’s.
5) Positive Minutes From the Freshman – The past 650 words have focused on LIU’s negatives, so let’s end this melancholy post on a positive note. Freshman E.J. Reed gave Perri solid minutes tonight, as he scored eight points (on 3 of 7 shooting), grabbed six boards, and stuffed three balls in 21 minutes (points, blocks, and minutes were all career highs). Reed is still offensively raw and needs to continue to work on his body, but his effort tonight gave Blackbird fans a chance to witness his excellent upside. He’ll be a key piece moving forward this season, if he can progress and be active defensively and on the boards. If those skills develop sooner than later, Perri will have a valuable weapon to utilize off his bench. Given their issues in the frontcourt sans Boyd, Reed has a real opportunity ahead of him.