Northeast Conference Regular Season Champs
To Coach Jim Ferry, congratulations. Make that back-to-back regular season NEC titles. In defeating Fairleigh Dickinson Thursday evening, the Blackbirds clinched first place and the number one seed heading into the Northeast Conference Tournament where they will officially begin defending their NEC championship of a season ago. They will meet eighth-seed Sacred Heart in the first round.
I had my reservations about LIU having to finish the regular season on the road. Unlike the success they've enjoyed inside the Wellness Center this season, on the road the Blackbirds were only a 7-7 team. The second place Wagner Seahawks stayed on the Blackbirds' tails all season like a bag of salt. A mere game behind in the standings, Wagner was also scheduled to finish their regular season with two games on the road. But unlike LIU, the Seahawks flourished as a visiting team, amassing a 11-2 record before Thursday night's action.
Wagner won Thursday's game against Bryant to improve their NEC record to 15-2, and upped their overall mark to 24-4 under Coach Hurley for what will end up being the best overall record in the Conference. Their win over Bryant also bumped their road record up to 12-2 as well as the game being their ninth win in a row.
But the team that handed Wagner two of it's four losses this season, also won Thursday evening making all this academic. The race for the Conference's number one seed is won. LIU-Brooklyn retains it's NEC regular season title. Similar to Wagner's streak, the Blackbirds' 91-80 defeat of Fairleigh Dickinson was LIU's eighth win in a row. Both teams have one more game to play. LIU (16-1) will finish against Monmouth, while Wagner will end their regular season against Central Connecticut State. At this point, the best Wagner can do is tie LIU for the best Conference record. But LIU owns the tie-breakers.
Technically one of the highest scoring teams in the country, the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds were led by their two Junior forwards; Jamal Olasewere, and Julian Boyd; whom both celebrated scoring the 1,000th points of their respective collegiate careers this season. And in his first full season as a starter, guard Jason Brickman has earned the accolades of his team mates and Coach, in addition to gaining national attention with his 7.2 assists per game average.
Thursday against Fairleigh Dickinson, Julian Boyd established a new career high with twenty rebounds, with eighteen coming on the defensive glass. He also contributed twenty-one points as part of a dominating effort in the Blackbirds' clincher. LIU out rebounded FDU 47-35 for the game. Jamal Olaswerer pulled down eight of those boards, and dropped a game high twenty-four points on FDU. He scored eighteen of his points in the second half. And in a team high thirty-five minutes played, Jason Brickman distributed thirteen assists against just two turnovers.
FDU shot only slightly better than LIU from the field. In return, LIU shot slightly better than FDU from beyond the arch. But as has been the case over many games and Blackbird victories this season, the Hoops of Flatbush made their opponents pay for their mistakes at the line. They won Thursday's exchange of free-throws by a game tilting 25-6 margin.
LIU's final game of the regular season will be tomorrow, Saturday, February 25th, in New Jersey where the Blackbirds will take on (9-8) Monmouth, who tentatively can end up anywhere from the fifth to seventh seed in the coming Conference tournament.
THE FOLLOWING 8 TEAMS QUALIFIED for the 2011-2012 NORTHEAST CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT:
* Seeds are tentative Prior to Saturday's Games.
1) - LIU-BROOKLYN BLACKBIRDS
2) - Wagner Seahawks
3) - Robert Morris Colonials
4) - St. Francis (Brooklyn) Terriers
5) - Quinnipiac Bobcats
6) - Central Connecticut State Blue Devils
7) - Monmouth Hawks
8) - Sacred Heart Pioneers