I went to Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon with the intention of writing the too early obituary on LIU Brooklyn’s season. Imagining how it might’ve started is easy: “Lost in the fading glow of LIU’s impressive three-peat is the career of the Blackbirds’ sublime point guard Jason Brickman. But even one of the best point guards in the nation isn’t quite enough to carry this team, which has been dealt so much misfortune, to a fourth title.”
Then I watched the Blackbirds play against Mount St. Mary’s and found something else: Hope. Sure, the Mount might be the NEC team that is the most susceptible to LIU’s new zone-and-dash strategy. Jamion Christian’s team loves threes and pressing. The Mount is quite vulnerable inside. Hang onto the ball and you’ll probably score goes the common wisdom against Mayhem.
So maybe it shouldn’t be that impressive that LIU did exactly that on Saturday evening. The Blackbirds cut down on turnovers and scored 44 points in the paint on the way to a 75-71 victory at the WRAC.
What that game revealed is that while the Blackbirds, 2-4 in the NEC, might be down, but they’re certainly not out. LIU still has quite a bit of talent. Brickman, probably the most gifted passer in the country, still mans the wheel of LIU’s offense. He cracked 900 career assists against the Mount, becoming just the 14th player in Division I history to achieve such a feat. The senior point guard’s 12 assist were right at his season average, but they came with a different tenor and pace. Brickman worked tirelessly to bring his teammates into the fold early in the game. Freshman Glenn Feidanga scored 15 points on 7-8 shooting by being active near the rim and waiting for Brickman’s passes to arrive. The zone helped E.J. Reed (12 points) stay on the court to receive back passes for monster dunks.
“Glenn is finishing really well and catching everything so I feel a lot more comfortable throwing the ball to him. Early on I guess just the chemistry we didn’t have it down,” Brickman said. “I’m definitely getting more comfortable, especially with Glenn and some of these other guys catching and finishing.”
Another surprise has been the play of D.J. Griggs. The backup point guard scored 10 points against the Mount. Since the game against Wagner, Griggs has received more playing time and made the most of it. He’s scored at least eight points in four of his past five games.
And a funny thing happened once Brickman got everyone involved. He didn’t need to score. Instead of forcing shots he calmly waited for his moment and delivered a surgical strike with 3:54 remaining, scoring six straight points to give LIU a comfortable nine-point margin to finish off the game.
“I was definitely forcing it early on in the season. Now I’m not trying to force it, and read the defense, and pick and choose my spots to be aggressive and take open shots,” Brickman said.
Feidanga’s progress is a big reason why LIU still has a puncher’s chance. Unlike many of his teammates, the freshman big man is finally healthy and it showed Saturday. Feidanga grabbed 11 rebounds, including four on the offensive end, as LIU controlled the boards. The 6’8″ freshman’s development gives Jack Perri a reliable third option down low next to Landon Atterberry and Reed. (The zone also helps protect the notoriously foul-prone Reed.)
The Blackbirds’ zone is a work in progress, but works at least for a half. LIU has played excellent defense in the first half against both Bryant and Mount St. Mary’s – two NEC contenders. The Mount scored 1.05 points per possession against LIU, that’s good enough when you add in a Brickman led offense.
Perri for his part seems cautiously optimistic.
“If we can continue to do that and defend and rebound in this league then who knows. I don’t think there is a team way out in front of anybody else,” Perri said. “Anybody could win the league. Simply because I have the best point guard I think in the country and I have some good pieces around him if they can gain some confidence then who knows. We’re not really focusing on the end right now.”
A little size. A better zone. Throw in an outstanding point guard and the Blackbirds aren’t out of the NEC race. At least not yet.