by Dan Gardella
Fairfield – This year more than ever, the Northeast Conference has been competitive from top to bottom. It continued to impress Thursday night as the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds took on the Sacred Heart Pioneers. Looking to remain close with the conference’s leaders, LIU Brooklyn got a test from the Pioneers throughout. It took a career-high 30 points from Joel Hernandez and 18 forced turnovers to give the Blackbirds a 69-60 victory.
On the night of Sacred Heart’s annual “Pack the Pitt” night, it was evident early on the crowd was a factor. After LIU Brooklyn’s Jashaun Agosto opened the game with a layup, the Pioneers would go on a 9-2 run over the next six minutes to give them an early five-point lead.
“I thought Sacred Heart played a great game early on. Especially their energy was fantastic and they came out a took it to us.” said LIU Brooklyn head coach Derek Kellogg.
Sacred Heart would maintain the lead until the midway point of the first half when Zach Coleman’s three pointer gave the Blackbirds a 16-13 lead. The Pioneers would hang tough with LIU Brooklyn and only trailed 34-27 at the halftime break.
In the beginning of the second half, Sacred Heart would shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers, six of their 18 on the game coming within the first eight minutes of the half resulting in a 16-point deficit for the Pioneers, the largest deficit of the game.
Sacred Heart would begin to attempt a comeback following the under-12 media timeout. The Pioneers used a 9-0 run to close to gap to 53-47, prompting a Blackbird timeout. Out of the timeout, LIU Brooklyn got a jumper by Agosto to end the three-minute scoreless streak. It did not however, stop the Sacred Heart offense from clicking. Anthony Latina’s crew would score eight of the next nine points to bring the Pioneers within two at 56-54.
After seeing their double-digit lead dwindle, Blackbird leaders Hernandez and Raiquan Clark did not waiver as they would combine to score 12 straight points to open the lead back up to double digits with five minutes remaining. Sacred Heart would cut the lead to nine but could not get any lower within the final minutes.
Hernandez, who entered the evening second in the conference in scoring exploded in the second half, scoring 19 of his 30 points in the final twenty minutes.
“I was just trying to be aggressive. Taking what the defense is giving me and looking to make plays for myself and my teammates” said Hernandez who added six rebounds and an assist to his career night.
Hernandez and Clark would wreak havoc on Sacred Heart all night, combining to score 42 of the teams 69. Jashaun Agosto added 15 in the winning effort.
“I think his (Hernandez) confidence is through the roof right now. He’s playing at a high, high level. He’s doing a lot of the things that he was questioned a little bit from his career. I think he’s become a complete player this year. Raiquan is in a similar boat. It’s good that they can play off of each other so when one guy isn’t having a great night, the other guy can pick up the slack.” said Kellogg about his upperclassmen leaders.
In Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina’s eyes, turnovers and free throws were the deciding factors in the game.
“We’ve missed too many open shots.” said Latina. “It’s been the same thing for us all year.”.
The lone bright spot for the Pioneers was freshman Alex Watson, who tied a career high with 15 points, 13 of which coming in the second half along with being the leader of the comeback late in the second half.
“No question his confidence is building. He’s starting to get more comfortable, he’s starting to do more things. He’s helped us.” said Latina.
Sacred Heart (7-17) (2-9 NEC) look to stop their five-game skid when they battle in-state rival Central Connecticut State Saturday afternoon.
LIU Brooklyn (11-13) (6-5 NEC) look to make it three straight wins as they conclude their two-game road trip against Bryant Saturday afternoon.