UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Long Island came to Connecticut without a win on the season, but emerged with their first two that included a Springfield Bracket title in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. And along the way, they continued to do what head coach Jim Ferry said they would in the first few weeks: learn about their team and move forward towards another NCAA Tournament appearance.
LIU opened up with three games on the road, something which will be a recurring theme as Ferry noted the difficulty in getting non-conference home games. They lost all three, but none were against bad teams as they lost at Hofstra, Old Dominion and Penn State. While Ferry, like most coaches, isn’t into moral victories, he felt like the team got much of what they needed out of them.
“I thought in those three road games to start before we got here, we focused on ourselves more than our opponent and got better every day,” Ferry said.
LIU is a battle-tested team. Last season, they won a national-best 13 games on the road en route to a Northeast Conference title, showing their mettle away from home on a consistent basis as it wasn’t just this year that they had trouble getting non-conference home games. That helped lead them into the NCAA Tournament, and a lot of that team returns so there’s talent and winning experience.
On Sunday against Vermont, they showed a lot of that. They got Vermont’s post players in foul trouble early and often, getting the ball inside and showing a knack for drawing contact when they went up. LIU led the country in drawing fouls last year, and got to the line often for it. Thus far, they have continued that this season, and on Sunday they not only got Vermont’s best post players on the bench often due to foul trouble, but they got to the free throw line 37 times for a big advantage over the Catamounts.
“We’ve been averaging about 30 free throws a game this year, so it was not just tonight,” Ferry noted.
And when it was all said and done, the relentlessness of players like Julian Boyd made a difference. Boyd had 18 points and 12 rebounds and is a threat to put up a double-double almost any night. Jamal Olasewere also had 18 points and was a big factor, and point guard Jason Brickman has stepped into the starting lineup seamlessly after leading the Northeast Conference in assists as a freshman reserve last year. Vermont had rallied to tie the game at 60, but LIU went on a 12-0 run and took the game over from there.
Long Island has a balanced, experienced team that should have a chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament this season. There’s unselfishness, a feel for the game and the team is constructed well from a personnel standpoint. They’re now using the non-conference schedule well to prepare for the Northeast Conference, which is their ticket to an NCAA Tournament bid. Two wins in Connecticut to show for their efforts will only help them move forward more.