When LIU Brooklyn’s Jason Brickman drained a three-pointer with 19 seconds to knot the score at 92-all, overtime loomed large in last night’s Northeast Conference (NEC) men’s basketball game at Wagner’s Spiro Sports Center.
But Seahawks’ junior point guard Kenny Ortiz had a different finish in mind.
With a single second remaining on the clock, Ortiz corralled an errant shot by teammate Latif Rivers and converted it into a game-winning layup to give Wagner a scintillating 94-92 win over visiting LIU Brooklyn in NEC regular season action.
In a game with playoff implications for two of the NEC’s better teams, it was a tale of two halves that left the 2,300 fans in attendance, along with an ESPNU national audience, in suspense until the game’s final play, when a full court heave by LIU’s Booker Hucks was batted down at the buzzer.
Led by senior forward Jamal Olasewere’s 12 points (21 for the game), LIU dominated first-half play, going into intermission with a 45-38 lead. The Blackbirds got excellent execution by guards Jason Brickman and C.J. Garner, careful ball handling—LIU had only 5 turnovers in the half—and impressive shooting, as the Blackbirds connecting for 50% of their shots for both the half and the game.
Even thought Wagner trailed at halftime, Seahawks’ Coach Bashir Mason could point to important trends that favored his team. Senior forward Jonathon Williams put up 9 points on 4 of 5 shooting—he would score 20 for the game, hitting 7 of 10 shots—and the Seahawks combined to shoot 53% for the half on their way to an excellent 55% for the game. At times both team’s defensive intensity resembled last week’s NBA All-Star Game, but Wagner did manage to block 4 first half LIU shots.
The Seahawks maintained their hot shooting into the second half, while their defensive pressure the frustrated the Blackbirds, resulting in 12 more turnovers and 5 more blocks for the visitors. Wagner tied the game at 52-all on a Mario Moody dunk—two of the sophomore forward’s 19 points, tying a career high set against LIU earlier this season. The Seahawks proceeded to go on a 17 – 7 run to take a ten point lead with ten minutes left, leading up to one of the game’s most emotionally charged moments.
LIU’s C.J. Garner—game high 22 points—went up for a layup and was fouled hard by Wagner’s Dwaun Anderson. Garner ended up in the stands where a gallery of rabid Seahawk fans surrounded him and appeared to push him. Cooler heads prevailed, and Jason Brickman hit the ensuing technical free throws, but it seemed as if the game might veer out of the jurisdiction of referees Donald Eppley, Robert Riley and Ronnie Tyburski.
With order restored, the Blackbirds traded baskets with the Seahawks, but LIU simply could not cut into the Wagner lead, trailing 88-78 with 2:06 left in the game—a seemingly safe cushion for the home side. But a barrage of three-pointers by LIU’s Hucks, Olasewere and Brickman brought the Blackbirds all the way back into a tie with the Seahawks, and gave LIU fans false hopes of escaping Staten Island with what would have been their team’s fifth straight win on Wagner’s court.
Both Wagner (16-11; 10-6 NEC) and LIU Brooklyn (15-13; 10-6 NEC) are tied for third place in the conference with two games remaining. The Seahawks hold the crucial tie-breaker should the two teams be tied at the end of NEC regular season play, meaning a potential rematch against the Seahawks at Spiro and—perhaps—a more favorable outcome for the Blackbirds.
After the game LIU Coach Jack Perri cited the importance role his seniors will play in the Blackbirds’ final two contests, both at home. Garner, Hucks, Olasewere, and Kenny Onyechi will all be graduating after stellar LIU careers, and Perri is confident this quartet will deliver.
“When you have this many seniors and the end is near for their careers, those guys will get the mindset right,” said the first year coach. “There’s too much at stake in this league and we want to get a home court (playoff) game. We’re going to have to step up.”
Echoing his coach’s concern, Olasewere stated simply: “The sense of urgency right now is through the roof.”