When you have only eight healthy scholarship players things can go sideways fast. That’s exactly what happened for LIU Brooklyn in the first half against Temple at the Barclays Center on Saturday. The Blackbirds trailed by 16 at the break and allowed 63 points in the second half in a blowout loss.
LIU’s season continues though. The Blackbirds head to Texas this week and then NEC play starts on Jan. 9. What are some lessons that Jack Perri’s team can take from this one to hopefully build for the future? Here are three thoughts.
1) Jason Brickman needs help: Temple did something that no opponent had been able to do, take the Blackbirds’ star point guard out of the game. Will Cummings did an excellent job on Brickman in the first half in particular. The full game numbers don’t look that bad (9 points, 6 assists, 3 turnovers, 4 steals, 2-8 from the field), but a lot of that production came late. Brickman had just 3 points and 2 assists at halftime. When he did get free Temple’s big men hedged effectively.
“We contained Brickman about as good as we could,” said Temple head coach Fran Dunphy.
The biggest problem though wasn’t that Brickman was being contained, it was that nobody else stepped up as the Blackbirds scored just 22 first half points. It didn’t seem like anybody wanted to challenge Temple on the offensive end if Brickman wasn’t creating a plethora of opportunities.
“It got us a little flustered and it got a little whacked out, especially in the first half,” Perri said.
Someone like freshman Iverson Fleming or junior Gerrell Martin is going to need to step into that alternative playmaker role during NEC play if the Blackbirds are going to be successful. Teams that can take Brickman away – and St. Francis Brooklyn, Wagner, Mount St. Mary’s, and Robert Morris all have the defenders to do it – will cause too many heartaches otherwise.
2) The defense has hit its nadir: Is there any way the defense can get worse? Temple scored 101 points in 70 possessions by shooting the lights out against LIU’s zone. The Owls shot better from three (15-27, 56%) than they did from the free throw line (10-21, 48%). Most of that is because LIU was forced to play zone for almost the entirety of the game due to foul trouble for Landon Atterberry (5 fouls in 7 minutes) and Glenn Feidanga (5 fouls in 17 minutes). It got so bad that walk-on Darien Best found himself on the court in the first half.
The fact is this: LIU doesn’t have a single above average man-to-man defender on its roster. Even when NEC play comes it’s not going to get that much better. It just can’t be this bad. Maybe the return of a 70% healthy Julian Boyd gives Perri another interior option. Maybe Gilbert Parga uses his length and athleticism on the defensive end. But there are too many holes. So LIU packs in the zone and hopes teams can’t shoot over it. You’re playing with fire and on Saturday the Blackbirds got scorched.
This was LIU’s worst defensive game of the season, including giving up 1.38 points per possession to Eastern Washington. LIU came into this game 349th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. They’re likely to take the bottom spot. There’s now nowhere to go but up.
3) E.J. Reed didn’t foul and he didn’t give up either: One of the brighter spots for LIU in this game was the play of the sophomore forward. Reed didn’t commit a foul in the first half. He didn’t play his best during the first 20 minutes either. But as the game got out of hand Reed kept giving a ton of effort and finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds in 39 minutes. Since Atterberry and Feidanga were in foul trouble Reed essentially had to stay on the court. LIU played a taller Temple team to a draw on the boards and a lot of it was due to Reed. (Martin’s 7 rebounds were big too.)
“He competed all the way,” Perri said about Reed. “I can always count on EJ to do that. He didn’t care what the score was, in the huddle he was constantly talking to guys and trying to get the guys going.”
Reed’s willingness to go into the paint and grab some boards in the second half and his ability to commit just two fouls in 39 minutes is a big building block for LIU’s future. Here’s hoping the Blackbirds can eventually take advantage.