As if the offseason wasn’t bad enough for LIU-Brooklyn, the regular season hasn’t been any better.
The Blackbirds, the overwhelming favorite to repeat as Northeast Conference champions, fell to 0-2 on the season with a 98-94 loss on the road to Lafayette. It comes on the heels of a season-opening 77-74 loss to Morehead State in a virtual home game in the Barclays Center.
The problem wasn’t scoring — as is always the case when you score 94. Four of five starters finished in double-figures for LIU, led by Jamal Olaswere’s 25 points and 11 rebounds. Last season’s NEC Player of the Year, Julian Boyd, had 13 and both C.J. Garner and Jason Brickman had 19. Brickman had eight assists.
The problem, as you can imagine, was defense. Dan Trist dropped 30 for the Leopards, going 14-for-18 from the field. Seth Hinrichs scored 20 in the win as well.
If there’s one consistent problem through two games, it’s definitely the bench. The Blackbirds have a combined 19 points coming off the pine, with Gerrell Martin’s six against Lafayette leading the way. The team legitimately goes eight-deep, but just hasn’t gotten any offensive support from that group.
The losses themselves are troubling because these were two winnable games for the Blackbirds. They were playing a Morehead State team in their first game under new-coach Sean Woods, then a game against a Lafayette team that’s projected to finish in the middle of the Patriot League. This is all after Boyd, Garner and Olaswere were involved in an on-campus fight that resulted in arrests, charges and a two-game conference suspension.
LIU’s NCAA Tournament berth wasn’t going to hinge on their non-conference schedule. They play their next two games against Maryland and Kentucky, so an 0-4 record in the Barclays Center Classic is now a distinct possibility, which would be a massive disappointment. After the tournament, the Blackbirds get a second shot at Lafayette on Dec. 1, as well as games against MAAC favorite Manhattan, Rice and Seton Hall. So while wins over those three would be a boost, the tournament was where they could make the most non-conference noise with their upcoming games.
But after two season-opening losses, there’s not a lot of confidence in this team that they can even contend with the Terrapins and the Wildcats.
What’s worse? The Blackbirds lose the three players mentioned for the first two conference games, against Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac on the road. Those won’t be easy.
There needs to be some major changes within coach Jack Perri’s squad. This was supposed to be their year. So far, it’s been the year they’d like to restart.
David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.