LIU Blackbirds Trounce Wagner, 85-65 in NEC Clash
The Long Island University Blackbirds had some questions to answer. They carried a three game losing streak into the New Year. Had lost two Conference games in a row, and had lost their intensity and ball sharing that led to a five game winning streak in December. Now the team faced an undefeated Wagner College squad that staked its claim to be a serious conference contender.
What to do? On January 17th, on a cold and rainy evening, the Blackbirds (10-6, 2-3) found some answers. LIU came out, played with a high level of intensity, and inner fire, that didn’t let up the entire game, and ran Wagner out of the gym, winning convincingly, 85-65. Senior Forward Eugene Kotorobai played a stellar game, leading the team in scoring (24) and rebounds (11). Freshman guard Kyle Johnson came off the bench and scored 20 points. Frosh Guard David Hicks chipped in with 18 points, and Jaytornah Wisseh, a talented sophomore guard, added 11.
The Blackbirds shot 10-20 from 3-point land, and 44.2% for the game. LIU took a 40 to 30 half-time lead and extended it on hot shooting. LIU shot for 54.2% from the floor in the second half.
LIU came out fired up for the game and played team basketball. It looked for the open man, passed the ball, and the open man made his shot. Senior Kellen Allen, who scored all of his nine points in the second half, aptly summed up his team’s performance. “Tonight was a wonderful win,” Allen said. “We all played unselfishly. Everybody was looking for one another. The scoring was balanced and everybody got a look.”
LIU also out-rebounded Wagner, 40-39, and that helped out in the win. Last season, the Seahawks defeated LIU twice. And, LIU wanted this game badly them,” Allen said LIU was focused on out-rebounding Wagner (12-5, 5-1). “That’s a big part of their game. So we out-rebounded them,” said Allen.
Kotorobai, along with Allen, provides senior leadership. Kotorobai set the tone early when he hit his first two three-point shots to give the Blackbirds an early 6-0 cushion. David Hicks hit another trey to push the lead to 11-4 and the Blackbirds were off and flying. Wagner then tied the game, at 20-20, when Mark Porter, who is 15th on Wagner’s all-time scoring list, made a key trey mid-way through the first half. Wagner took a short lead at 22-20, when Durell Vinson scored on a tip-in. But the Blackbirds were hot from beyond the arc and when David Hicks made a nice three-point shot, LIU jumped ahead 25-22. Eugene Kotorobai, who connected on 4 or 7 three-point shots, hit another one to give his team a 37-30 lead.
LIU coach Jim Ferry, who has turned the LIU men’s basketball program around in just 5 years, acknowledged the strong presence of Kotorobai. “Eugene is having a great year, said Ferry. “He plays with such passion. He is not just a 3 point shooter…he really tries to defend and rebound the basketball and gives the spark that we need.”
In the second half, LIU got on an offensive roll, and it the shots kept falling in. A ten point half-time lead grew to 17 when Kellen Allen got into the scoring mix on a made free throw. Allen also scored on a lay-up to push the lead to a surprising 20 points at 56-36. Wagner coach Mike Deane, who had several testy exchanges with referees, was ejected from the game with 5:35 remaining with a second bench technical.
LIU maintained its lead in the second half, by rebounding the ball and making timely shots. LIU out-rebounded Wagner, 21-17 in the second half.
The Blackbirds got back into the conference race with the key win. Ferry likes the make-up of his squad. “They really like each other,” said Ferry. “They care about each other. They care about school. They have pride and they play with passion.”#