The Long Island University men’s basketball team, playing with heavy hearts and without its star player, watched a double-digit lead evaporate as Saint Francis downed the Blackbirds 80–78 at the Steinberg Wellness Center on Feb. 4.
The Blackbirds squad — which led by as many as 12 points — was without red shirt senior Jerome Frink, who was dealing with the death of his father.
Saint Francis out-scored the Blackbirds 32–13 over the final 9:43 of regulation. Andre Wolford sank a layup to tie the game at 61 midway through the second half, and Long Island University was never able to regain its footing.
“There were frustrating moments certainly,” Blackbirds coach Jack Perri said. “We had breakdowns offensively, we gave up some threes. I thought we did a good job for most of the game, but we fouled too much. It’s disappointing, but we didn’t get enough stops to win.”
Isaiah Blackmon gave the Red Flash a two-point lead with a pair of late-game free throws and Randall Gaskins Jr. sank a corner three-pointer to put the team up 77–72 with 23 seconds to play. Long Island University’s Julian Batts answered back with a three to trim the lead to two and give the Blackbirds a bit of final-second confidence.
“At that juncture we executed,” Perri said. “We executed those sets, got good looks, Batts knocked them both down, and it gave us an opportunity to win it.”
Blackmon continued his hot spurt at the line and sank another pair — setting the Blackbirds team back on its heels.
“I just stayed focused,” Blackmon said. “I knew we were tired and I had to make them to put us up.”
Batts countered with another three to bring the score to 79–78 with six seconds to play, but it wouldn’t be enough.
It was a dramatic and disappointing end to the Northeast Conference matchup for the Blackbirds, which controlled tempo throughout the first half.
Long Island University (14–11, 7–5) hit its shooting stride early and created some wiggle room with 2:34 remaining in the first half. Julian Batts and Julius van Sauers knocked down back-to-back threes to put the Blackbirds up 38–31. Jashaun Agosto sank a shot at the buzzer to give the hosts a 41–34 lead headed into the intermission.
Agosto racked up a game-high 19 points — including 14 in the second half — and three other Blackbirds finished in double-figures. Batts finished with 14 points, Iverson Fleming racked up 12 points, and Julius van Sauers had 11 points.
“With Jerome not here, we talked about everyone stepping up to the best of their ability,” Perri said. “Our guys for the most part did that.”
The Red Flash shot a blistering 63 percent from the floor in the second half, while Long Island University connected on just 43 percent of its shots. Saint Francis (11–12, 8–4) also had four players eclipse double-figures — Josh Nebo had 19 points, Blackmon finished with 15 points, Gaskins Jr. notched 12 points, and Georgios Angelou had 10 points and knocked down a trey to give the Red Flash a 64–63 lead at the 7:54 mark of the second half.
“It seems like they didn’t know how to guard him,” Blackmon said of Nebo. “He’s a great shot blocker and a great post man.”
The Blackbirds have now lost three in a row and four of the last five.