Thursday, January 14, 2016

Saintil goes for 27 as LIU Brooklyn stuns Wagner

Aakim Saintil's season-high 27 points helped LIU Brooklyn erase 17-point second half deficit. Blackbirds came back to defeat Wagner, 71-70. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lawrence via New York Sports Day)

STATEN ISLAND -- LIU Brooklyn crossed the Verrazano Bridge in search of righting the ship after losing three of their first four Northeast Conference matchups. On the other side of the floor, Wagner was defending a six-game winning streak inside the Spiro Sports Center, hoping to put some more distance between themselves and their competitors.

For most of the evening, it looked as if the latter would win out, as the Seahawks built a 43-26 lead 49 seconds into the second half against an LIU outfit struggling to find balance through the opening minutes. Then, a 17-0 run tied the game at 43 just over five minutes later. In the end, it was the Blackbirds (8-8, 2-3 NEC) who took the lead inside the last minute of regulation and held on ferociously, outlasting Wagner (10-6, 3-2 NEC) by the final of 71-70, handing the Seahawks their first home loss of the season.

"I just knew I had to be aggressive," said Aakim Saintil, who scored 19 of his season-high 27 points in the second half. "Being how they play, I knew we had to come out prepared. That was my mentality, to keep taking shots. Even when I'm not taking them, they're eventually going to fall."

Saintil had eight points in LIU's spurt of 17 straight to wipe out a 43-26 deficit the Blackbirds faced with 19:11 remaining in regulation, and established himself as the largest reason why the visitors were able to effectively counterpunch down the stretch. When Wagner built a 53-46 lead at the 11:36 mark, the junior guard calmly drained four free throws to restore the game to a one-possession affair. With 8:10 remaining, his feed to Martin Hermannsson gave LIU a 54-53 lead, and after Wagner responded with a JoJo Cooper three-pointer, Saintil's ensuing jumper knotted the score at 56 apiece. Ultimately, as Wagner took a 67-61 lead into the final 2:55, there was Saintil again, knocking down a triple to start what became a 10-3 Blackbird run to close the game and fire a loud salvo in a Thursday night filled with upsets and surprises across the NEC.

"He definitely needed that," LIU head coach Jack Perri said of Saintil's efforts, no doubt a huge pick-me-up heading into a crucial game at Bryant on Saturday that continues a three-game swing away from the Steinberg Wellness Center. "He's been frustrated with getting in foul trouble, or whether he has a poor performance. I knew this a game that he needed to play well if we were going to win. He has the ability, because they have these great on-ball defenders, he's one guy who could break down their defense, and he was able to make some really good decisions."

As Wagner continues a stretch of five home games in their next seven contests, head coach Bashir Mason reaffirmed the sense of urgency needed for Saturday's tilt against Central Connecticut, but not before first addressing the fallout from what stands out as a demoralizing defeat when it seemed as though victory was within earshot.

"Major meltdown by my young group," a brutally honest Mason surmised. "I'll even include myself in there...some calls I could have or should have made late in the game. I told our guys this was going to be a must-win game for those guys and at halftime, we tried to jolt our guys and let them know this team wasn't going away."

"Every game is a sense of urgency," he later reiterated. "We were picked preseason No. 6. We're a team that's got a huge, huge chip on our shoulder. we're playing with something to prove, and me as a coach, I've just got to come up with a formula to have our guys mentally ready and focused."

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