Jalen Cannon was fired up and ready to go. He was excited to play St. Francis’ rival LIU Brooklyn and kept watching the clock waiting for it to tick down to zero so the game could begin.
Before warm-ups were over, Cannon saw one of the LIU Brooklyn players taunting teammate Ben Mockford. “I think he said that I can’t shoot or something,” Mockford said as he brushed off the significance of the heckle. He didn’t react to the taunts beyond a cold stare, but Cannon knew that it would have his teammate fired up nonetheless.
“I feel like it motivated him a lot,” Cannon said. “When people start talking smack to him like that he gets a little rowdy and ready to go.”
Cannon was right about Mockford being fired up as he went off for 30 points including eight three-pointers to lead the St. Francis Terriers to an impressive 78-64 victory over the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. It was the first Northeast Conference win for the Terriers and only the second time that they have beaten the Blackbirds in their last 12 attempts.
“It was a good night for us,” said St. Francis’ head coach Glenn Braica. “We got a chance to beat an arch-rival that is a very good team and to go 1-0 in the league. They’ve had a very good run in the conference over the last couple of years where not many teams have beaten them. It’s not just us, it’s the whole league that hasn’t beaten them.”
Mockford finished with 30 points, Cannon had 19 and 14 rebounds and Brent Jones had eight points with a career-high 12 assists for St. Francis. For LIU Brooklyn, Landon Atterberry had 19, Gerrell Martin had 18, E.J. Reed had 11 and Jason Brickman had six and 11 assists.
The biggest stat of the night, aside from Mockford’s total threes, was offensive rebounds. St. Francis out-rebounded LIU Brooklyn 52-28, but they also picked up 26 offensive boards in the process. Cannon grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the first half alone which allowed him to explode for 17 points to build up a 45-35 lead going into halftime.
“(LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri) walked by me at halftime and said that ‘I’ve never seen a stat like that,’” Braica said referring to the Terrier’s 20 offensive rebounds in the first half. “I didn’t know what he was talking about at the time, but we had 20 offensive rebounds at half. I don’t know if that was a mistake, but that was one of the keys to our game to go to the glass. If you are going to beat this team, you’d better beat them inside. I knew we were doing a good job, but I had no idea that we’d had 20 at the half.”
That’s the Blackbirds’ biggest weakness that teams look to exploit because they are undersized. Their big-man and 2012 NEC Player of the Year, Julian Boyd was supposed to take care of that, but he’s out for the season with a torn ACL in his knee. They are also without Nura Zanna and Chris Carter, two players that were supposed to help up front. Perri said that it’s been a problem all season long.
“Coach told me before practice the other day that there are points on the board to just keep going to the board,” Cannon said. “They play a zone so it’s going to be easy rebounds on the offensive glass so you have to stay with it.”
While none of the players or coaches would admit it after the game, this marks the changing of the guard in Brooklyn. The Blackbirds have been the dominant team in recent years as they have won three consecutive NEC titles. However, they’ve been weakened with players graduating or doing down with injuries while the Terriers are up-and-coming and are quietly becoming the team to beat in the NEC.
“I don’t know, I don’t make predictions,” Braica said when asked how good his team could be. “I like this group, we’re resilient. They have a certain something about them where they don’t give in. They’re not perfect, but they’re good kids and they work. We just want to take it one day at a time and see how good we can be.”
“This isn’t our ultimate goal to beat LIU,” Braica said. “We want to beat them, but we want to take it a step further and be as good as we can be.”