The NEC lost two of its three postseason participants on Tuesday night as LIU Brooklyn fell to Radford in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament and Wagner lost at Baylor in the NIT.
LIU lost by 10 points, 71-61, but the game was closer than that the majority of the time. The Blackbirds even took a 3-point lead with 16:38 remaining on a Julian Batts three-pointer. Radford battled back to take the lead and while two more Batts threes would make it a 2-point game with 6:50 remaining, the Blackbirds never managed to take the lead again.
In fact, the LIU offense went frigidly cold against an extremely frustrating Radford defense. The Blackbirds didn’t make a shot during the rest of the contest, scoring their final six points of the game on free throws.
Radford concentrated on taking away fifth-year senior Joel Hernandez. Hernandez had dominated the NEC tournament, but Radford forced him into a frustrating evening. He went 3-11 from the floor and committed six turnovers while scoring only eight points in his final collegiate game. Even when there was a glimmer of hope when Hernandez knocked down a 3-pointer before halftime, a late charge robbed him of that momentum almost as quickly as it had come.
The bright spots for the Blackbirds were the sophomore guards. Jashaun Agosto led LIU with 16 points and also chipped in seven assists and six rebounds. Batts scored 13 points and added eight rebounds. Junior forward Raiquan Clark scored 14 points, mostly thanks to going 7-10 from the free throw line before fouling out late in the contest.
LIU finishes Derek Kellogg’s first season with an 18-17 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance. The late-season run was impressive. Assuming Clark, Batts, and Agosto return the Blackbirds should be dangerous again in Kellogg’s up-tempo system.
Down in Texas, the Seahawks kept things within 10 points through the third quarter (yes, there are quarters in the NIT this season), but Baylor went on 17-4 run to start the fourth quarter and ran away with an 80-59 victory.
The game at Baylor was always going to be a tall task. The Bears beat Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas at home, so it’s obviously not an easy place to play. Blake Francis tried to keep Wagner in it with 23 points (on 19 shots), but he was the only Seahawk in double figures.
JoJo Cooper scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds, but he was held to just one assist against four turnovers. The one assist was the fewest that Cooper had this season against a Division I opponent.
The Seahawks were going to have to shoot well from three in order to keep the game close, but made just 6-30 from distance. Romone Saunders went 0-7 from deep, though he did have nine points, eight rebounds, and five assists.
Cooper and Shack Scott, who scored three points off the bench, are the only seniors on Bashir Mason’s roster. Assuming they both return, the combination of Francis and Saunders should once again give the Seahawks one of the best 1-2 attacks in the NEC in 2018-19.
Both LIU and Wagner appear to be setup for long-term success, even if Tuesday night wasn’t the showcase they were hoping for.