Veteran leadership sparks Blackbirds in Battle of Brooklyn

These Blackbirds’ experience lifted them to another win.

The Long Island University men’s basketball team grabbed a 63–58 victory over St. Francis on Jan. 14, sparked by the strong late-game performance of its upperclassman. It was the fifth-straight win for the squad as Nura Zanna and Iverson Fleming stole the spotlight in the waning minutes of the Northeast Conference matchup.

“These games are always fun,” said Long Island University head coach Jack Perri. “We had to grind it out (win), and we did.”

Zanna sparked the Blackbirds (12–7, 5–1) with an unconventional three-point play with 1:20 left on the clock, draining his first free throw and sinking an uncontested layup after grabbing the rebound on his second-shot miss. The play gave Long Island University a five-point lead with 1:18 to play.

The Terriers (4–15, 2–3) kept it close as freshman forward Robert Montgomery drained two free-throws to cut the deficit to three at 59–56, but Fleming answered with his own big-time play. The senior — who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds — received a cross-court pass from freshman guard Julian Batts and immediately drove to the rim. On a three-second shot clock, he blew past Terriers defenders to convert a reverse, up-and-under layup, giving the Blackbirds another five-point cushion with 30 seconds to play.

“I thought we made some great stops and got some key defensive rebounds — for me, that was great,” Perri said. “The play that he (Fleming) made with the shot clock winding down was another big play.”

It wasn’t a perfect performance for the Blackbirds. Long Island University turned the ball over late and the Terriers jumped out to a brief, four-point lead midway through the fourth quarter on a Glenn Sanabria three.

The Blackbirds locked in defensively following that play, however, and forced the Terriers into six straight empty possessions over the next four minutes. Long Island University shut down the Terriers’ potent backcourt down the stretch, giving the Blackbirds offense a chance to pad its lead.

“They are really good basketball players,” said Fleming. “We knew coming in that those three were going to be very aggressive and to lock in on those three and to just rebound the ball. We stuck together like he (coach Perri) said, we made some big plays down the stretch and we pulled out the win.”

St. Francis freshman Rasheem Dunn was the bright spot in the Terriers’ loss — scoring a team-high 21 points and serving as a thorn in the Blackbirds’ collective side all game long. Yunus Hopkinson chipped in 16 points of his own, but Glenn Sanabira struggled, playing on a bad foot during the league matchup.

It was another disappointing showing for the Terriers — the team’s fourth-straight loss after beginning league play 2–0.

“We did some things that I wasn’t even sure we could do,” St. Francis coach Glenn Braica said. “But what happens with young teams sometimes is, they don’t understand, that you have to finish it. Forty minutes is the game — it’s not 37.”

Zanna and Jashaun Agosto both scored 12 points for the Blackbirds, and Jermone Frink added 15 points and 12 rebounds. The two squads will battle for Brooklyn bragging rights once more this season — facing off again on Feb. 15.

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