WRITTEN BY BRYAN FONSECA
The men’s basketball Brooklyn borough rivalry is going national as the St. Francis Terriers (11-15, 7-6 NEC) and Long Island Blackbirds (12-12, 6-7 NEC) are set for a President’s Day showdown on ESPN U. This marks the first-ever time that the Terriers will host a regular season game on a major ESPN outlet.
The history between the two teams goes back many decades with the Blackbirds having the edge, winning 63 of the 104 played games. It has been the Terriers that have been in control of all recent encounters however, as they come into this contest having won four straight against LIU.
While in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in school history, the Terriers defeated the Blackbirds three times during their outstanding 2014-15 campaign. In the lone match-up between the Brooklyn rivals so far this season, the Terriers left LIU with a dominant win in the 41st Annual Battle of Brooklyn, 64-49.
In the Battle of Brooklyn, Terriers’ forward Chris Hooper earned Lai Lynch MVP honors with a 15-point and four-rebound performance coming off the bench. Fellow forwards Amdy Fall (11, points, 13 rebounds, four blocks) and Antonio Jenifer (11 points, 10 rebounds), also came up big for the Terriers on that snowy afternoon.
Both Jenifer and Fall had significant contributions in the Terriers most recent encounter, a 74-67 come-from-behind win over Central Connecticut State. Fall (five rebounds, four blocks, two steals) was extremely disruptive on the defensive end, and played a big part in shutting down the Blue Devils offense throughout multiple second half stretches.
Jenifer recorded career-highs in points and rebounds with 22 and 15 respectively in the win over CCSU. Jenifer notably played a huge role in the second period after a slow start to the game, collecting 15 and 12 second-half points and rebounds.
The Terriers also received a career-high level contribution from starting point guard Yunus Hopkinson, who racked up a personal-best 27 points on the night, just days after a 24-point performance. Hopkinson shot 7-of-12 from three-point land on the night, and is coming into the ESPN U contest as one of the hottest players in the Northeast Conference.
Another one of those red-hot players in his backcourt mate Tyreek Jewell. On Monday, Jewell recently posted back-to-back high scoring games with a career-high 29 points in a loss against Sacred Heart, followed by a 19-point, 10-rebound showing in a win over Fairleigh Dickinson.
Jewell cooled off for a one-point first half in the victory over CCSU, but caught fire once again by scoring 11 points in the game’s second half.
A win over LIU would give the Terriers their first three-game winning streak of the season.
The Blackbirds opened their 2015-16 season with three consecutive victories, and have been up and down ever since. In the aforementioned defeat at the paws of the Terriers, the Blackbirds entered the hallway point with a 30-25 lead before getting outscored 39-19 in the final 20 minutes.
The Blackbirds have alternated wins and losses in their last six contests, and they’ve gone an even (6-6) in their last 12 games.
Forward Jerome Frink is emerging as a candidate for NEC Player of the Year with his efforts thus far in the year. Frink will enter The Pope as the NEC’s third leading scorer at 17.3 points per game, and second leading rebounder with 9.1 boards per contest.
Frink has kicked-it into another gear as of late, averaging 19.2 points and 11 rebounds in his last five contests.
Another Blackbird that has raised the bar in his last five games is guard Martin Hermannsson. Hermannsson follows Frink in NEC scoring as his 15.7 points per contest place him fourth in the league. Most notably, Hermannsson recently put together a stretch of four 20-point scoring games in a row, and as a result he’s averaged 21.2 points in his last five.
The Terriers are currently ranked sixth in the NEC, but a win would place them in a fifth place tie with Sacred Heart where both teams would be one game out of first place.
The Blackbirds enter this game right behind the Terriers in seventh place, and currently sit 2.5 games out of the four-teams tied for first, Wagner, Mount Saint Mary’s, Saint Francis (PA), and FDU. An LIU win would tie the Terriers and Blackbirds in sixth place.
The stage is set, and the ESPN U tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon at The Pope P.E. Center in St. Francis College.