Tied at 72-72 with just six seconds on the clock, Norfolk State’s Malcolm Hawkins had a chance to win the game. He went up for a jump shot from just 12 feet out, but LIU Brooklyn’s Troy Joseph tipped the shot, E.J. Reed grabbed the loose ball and fed the ball to point guard Jason Brickman.
“Once Brickman got the ball, I looked up and there were five seconds left,” LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri said. “I don’t want the ball in anybody else’s hands. If we call time out there, we might screw it up and they deny him. So there was no timeout thought once he got the ball.”
Instead of calling for a time out, Perri let Brickman run the play. As Brickman raced down the court, he saw Gerrell Martin out of the corner of his eye and set him up for a game-winning layup.
“When E.J. got it, I looked up at the clock real quick and saw there were five seconds left and we always practice five-second situations so I just brought it up real quick, I saw Gerrell on the wing and knew he could make a play,” Brickman said.
Martin, who finished with 16 points, hit the shot as time expired to give the Blackbirds a 74-72 come-from-behind victory over Norfolk State at the Steinberg Wellness Center, their first home game at LIU Brooklyn, on Sunday afternoon. The win improved their record to 2-4 after they were swept during a four-game West Coast road trip.
“That was gut check time for a lot of reasons,” Perri said. “Obviously we had a tough road trip in California and then we come back and in the first practice Gilbert Parga goes down. He’s going to be out 7-10 days. The guys responded as well as they could.”
The Blackbirds have struggled to find an offensive player to lead on with Julian Boyd, the 2012 Northeast Conference’s Player of the Year, out until at least January after knee surgery. So they have turned the ball over to Brickman, who had 10 points and 14 assists. It’s Brickman’s ability to spread the ball around, five Blackbirds had at least 10 points, that they will rely on until, or if, Boyd comes back.
“We don’t have a superstar talent that can go for 30,” Perri admitted. “That’s just not the makeup of our team this year. We’re going to have to shoot well and make threes and that’s what we did today. We put the ball in Jason’s hands and that’s what he does.”
Without Boyd and freshman Nara Zura, who is out for the year after he injured his hand during the preseason, the Blackbirds have struggled with a lack of size. That was an issue again on Sunday, but one that they have focused to overcome.
They were outrebounded 35-32 against Norfolk and especially struggled on the offensive glass, where they were beaten 14-11, and allowed 18 second chance points. However, the effort by the smaller Blackbirds was evident, especially on the final play where Reed beat out much taller rebounders to set up the game winning play.
“With Nura and Julian out we are just going to be undersized,” Perri said. “We’ve faced it every game and we’re going to continue to face that every game. That’s the way it is and it’s something that we can’t control so we have to play tough, physical, we have to box out. The effort has to be there.”
One player who has been expected to step up has been Landon Atterberry, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Cape Fear Community College, who is more of a three or a four than a five. It hasn’t been easy for him, but he came through against Norfolk as he grabbed an offensive board with 24 seconds left in the game that helped to pull the Blackbirds to within two and then a putback four seconds later that tied it at 72-72.
“I challenged him before because I don’t think he played to his potential,” Perri said of Atterberry, who finished with 15 points and six rebounds. “He’s outsized, he’s not a five, but he’s playing out of position because of what we have this year right now. He’s going to have to be that, a tough competitor on the glass. I think he’s athletic enough and has a quickness to be able to do that.”
The Blackbirds are back on the road after this as they will face Seton Hall, Lehigh and New Jersey Institute of Technology during a three-game trip. After that they come back home for two games before Christmas including a game at the Barclays Center against Temple on Dec. 21.