Blackbirds fall out of the playoff race with loss to St. Francis University

E.J. Reed had 20 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday, but the rest of the team didn't play well to back him up as the Blackbirds may have cost themselves the season. Photo by Rob Abruzzese.

E.J. Reed (33) had 20 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday, but the rest of the team didn’t play well enough to back him up as the Blackbirds may have cost themselves the season. Photo by Rob Abruzzese.

The LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds most likely won’t get a chance to defend their Northeast Conference title this season after they lost 74-58 to St. Francis University (PA) at home on Saturday night. The loss dropped them to ninth overall in the conference with a 2-8 record on the season.

The Blackbirds still technically have a shot to make the playoffs, but would need to win all six of their remaining games while hoping that St. Francis Brooklyn, Wagner University and Mount St. Mary’s all finish the season with a 1-5 record or worse. Considering they are now mired in a four-game losing streak it doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to pull off the unlikely comeback.

“They’re devastated,” Blackbird coach Jack Perri said after Saturday’s loss. “I didn’t have much to say because what can you say right now? We keep talking about the grind-out mentality. Tell them that things are going to get better, but they are down right now. There is no question about it.”

Perri noted that he is particularly concerned with senior Jason Brickman. Brickman was lucky enough to be a member of the Blackbirds for their entire run of three-consecutive NEC titles. So this is literally the first time in his career that he has endured these kinds of struggles.

“You feel for Jason,” Perri said. “He’s the one I worry about because he’s the least used to this. This has got to be very hard for him. I try to put my arm around him a little bit just to show him the love and make sure he keeps fighting.”

For such a big game, the Blackbirds didn’t show a lot of fight. E.J. Reed put them up by one with a layup just 4:57 into the game, but SFU followed that up with a 13-3 run to go up by nine midway through the first. It eventually became a 17-point lead when Malik Harmon hit a three-pointer with 6:19 left before the half.

The Blackbirds made the adjustment to go with a smaller, more defensive lineup in the second half. It worked defensively, but their offense disappeared as they shot just 31 percent and never got back into the game.

“You are trailing, you are down 17 and then we got a little bit better,” Perri said. “We went small, a little more athletic and aggressive defensively. We cut it, but then our offense was just gross in the second half. You are not going to win games when you are only scoring 21 points in a half.”

E.J. Reed was one of the few bright spots in this game. The sophomore, who struggled early on this season, has come on strong as of late. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, this third double-double of the season. Freshman Joel Hernandez has also gotten more of an opportunity of late and he took advantage on Saturday when he scored 14 points with seven rebounds in 26 minutes.

Perri explained after the game that with six games left in the season that he is going to focus on getting some new guys opportunities with an eye toward next season.

“Guys now have an opportunity,” Perri said. “Joel Hernandez has been with us for about a month now. I thought he got his legs under him a little bit tonight so that’s good. (Iverson Fleming) got some opportunities. Guys are getting some opportunities now and I want to see what they can do with it.

“The season is certainly not over by any means and that’s the mentality. It’s gonna get better, It’s going to build character. It’s going to feel a lot better once we start winning and hopefully we can start winning. There isn’t going to be any quit, not in me, not in my staff, not in the players.”

Freshman Glenn Feidanga is another one that should get an opportunity to show off his game over the rest of the season. That is if he can play. Feidanga left this game with a left knee injury after Reed fell on him after a layup attempt in the second half. He immediately left the game and Perri didn’t know the extent of the injury immediately after the game.

** Brickman finished with six points and six assists and tied Doug Gottlieb for 10th place on the NCAA’s all-time career assists leaderboard with 947. Up next is former New York Knick Greg Anthony at 950. He’s on pace to finish with 1,006 assists in his career which would put him in fourth place all-time.

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