By Dan Gardella
Fairfield – Déjà vu man. It’s quite a freaky thing.
Wednesday night, Sacred Heart hosted LIU Brooklyn in the #3 vs. #6 matchup of the Northeast Conference Tournament. Three seasons ago, Sacred Heart sat in a similar situation, needing to beat the sixth seeded Blackbirds to advance in the tournament. After failing to beat them then, there was an opportunity to erase that memory.
But once again, LIU Brooklyn spoiled the party. Behind 21 points from Raiquan Clark and 15 points apiece from Tyrn Flowers and Eral Penn, the Blackbirds ended Sacred Heart’s season prematurely, knocking off the Pioneers 71-62.
The Blackbirds threw the first punch on the Pioneers, who started three players experiencing their first NEC Tournament. LIU Brooklyn nailed five of their first seven three point attempts and before the Pioneers could blink, they were trailing 21-6 eight minutes in.
But slowly and surely, the Pioneers would wake up and begin to comeback, executing on the defensive and offensive ends. Five minutes later, a once 15-point deficit turned into a four point deficit.
Offense would slow down up to the final media timeout of the half. In the timeout huddle, trailing 25-17, head coach Anthony Latina challenged his team.
“We came out a little nervous,” said Latina. “I told them ‘I think we took their best punch.’ They made some threes that they haven’t been making all season. At the last media timeout I said ‘Hey guys, if we can get it to four, it’s a win for us.’”.
Well, challenge accepted.
The Pioneers chipped away at the Blackbird lead, getting it down to three with just over a minute to play. Following a defensive stop by Sacred Heart, Jare’l Spellman scored from the inside to cut the lead to one.
LIU Brooklyn would answer with a three-pointer to bring the lead back to four with 39 seconds to go.
Then the Sacred Heart freshmen would begin to write their names on the game. Cameron Parker would follow the made three with a quick pass down the court to senior Sean Hoehn to beat the defense and get a quick bucket.
Following a quick shot by LIU Brooklyn which resulted in a miss, Parker would bring the ball up and shovel it behind him to fellow freshman Koreem Ozier, who would nail a three to close the half with their first lead of the game.
With the crowd still trying to fathom what had just happened, I could only imagine the day when Cane Broome torched the same program, bringing the crowd on their feet as well. The momentum had shifted.
To begin the second half, the Pioneers would score the first four points to take a five-point lead. LIU Brooklyn would fight back and knot things at 40 going into the first media timeout of the half.
The game would not be in any team’s favor by more than four points for the first 17 minutes of action.
At this point, the tide would begin to turn the Blackbird’s way.
With LIU Brooklyn in front 57-54, Jashaun Agosto knocked down a three-pointer, a mini dagger that you begin to wrap things up for the Blackbirds.
The lead would get up to as much as 8 with 2:36 left before Sacred Heart would see if they had one final run in them.
Hoehn would get a layup to drop before a defensive stop and a basket by Zach Radz to make it 64-60 with 37 seconds left. Hoehn would then steal the inbounds pass and get fouled, resulting in a pair of free throws and a two point game.
But from there, Sacred Heart would have to foul LIU Brooklyn, and were unable to convert on the other end, leading to a heartbreaking defeat and another premature ending to the season.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” said Latina. “We didn’t play our best. LIU Brooklyn played terrifically. They made a lot of big plays.”
For the Blackbirds, who made the run through this exact tournament a season ago showed their poise and composure down the stretch of what Raiquan Clark called “a barfight”.
“I thought that that was a really great college basketball game,” said LIU Brooklyn head coach Derek Kellogg. “Both teams took their swipes out there. We were fortune that these guys made plays down the stretch.”
For Sacred Heart, they look to next season while LIU Brooklyn prepares to fight with top seeded St. Francis University on Saturday.
PHOTO: Raiquan Clark/liuathletics