LIU-Brooklyn is coming off their biggest win of the season when they defeated St. Johns 74-73. Minnesota defeated St. John’s 92-86 earlier in the season at Williams Arena so both of these teams beat the Red Storm in close games. The difference for LIU-Brooklyn was that Marcus LoVett and Tariq Owens were not playing.
Blackbird seniors Iverson Fleming and Jerome Fink led the Blackbirds to the win. Fleming led all scorers with 21 points, while Frink had 20 points and 12 rebounds. For his performance in this game Fleming was named NEC Player of the Week. This is a team that is world wide as they have players from Nigeria, the Central African Republic, the Senegal, the Netherlands, and six different states in America.
LIU-Brooklyn has played only the one high major opponent so far and that was the game with the Red Storm at the Barclays Center. The other wins came against low major programs like Maine and Hartford while they lost to Boston U (86-69), Incarnate Word (90-79), and North Carolina Central (79-56).
The Gophers are in the middle of a five game December stretch of low major programs that has had a mix of three types of games: a sleepy struggle with NJIT, a dominating win over Georgia Southern, and the Northern Illinois game Sunday that was a mix of both. Next up is the Blackbirds.
Minnesota is playing their fourth game ever against the Blackbirds. The Gophers won a game in 1937, they beat Long Island in the Final Four season in the infamous brawl, and the Gophers won 69-53 in 2006 which was Dan Monson’s last win as Minnesota coach.
The Blackbirds turned over a LoVett-less St. John’s squad 18 times while shooting between 45-46 percent from the floor using patient and balanced possessions. Not only did Fleming (a 6-foot-1 senior guard) and Frink (a 6-foot-7, 230 pound senior) have great games but they also got 13 points and 11 rebounds from Nura Zanna (6-foot-7, 240 pound junior forward from Nigeria) on 6 of 9 shooting and then Jashaun Agosto (5-foot-11 freshman guard) also scored ten.
LIU-Brooklyn has a reasonably big line-up they start games with although not tall at the five. Agosto is a smaller freshman (six under six feet) with 6-foot-1 Fleming next to him but they then go 6-foot-8 at small forward with Julius van Sauers (from the Netherlands), and two thick 6-foot-7 fighters in the frontcourt.
The Blackbirds are a physical team that rebounds with effort (Frink and Zanna are 7-9 rebound a game guys) but they also turn the ball over a lot. About 15 times a game and Fleming has five more turnovers than assists this year. The only Blackbirds with more assists than turnovers are Agosto and back-up 5-foot-11 guard Julian Batts.
This isn’t a team that is going to attack you heavily from the arc. They shoot about 17 treys a contest but most of those shots are good looks and they make the most of them shooting between 36-37 percent. Only Agosto is a player that you need to locate and worry about with an extra step from the normal defensive routine and he only takes a couple a game (Batts and Ashtyn Bradley are shooting solid percentages). This is a grind it out physical team that scores 72 points on average and has won 7 of 10 games.
For those of you focused on free throws the Gophers are only two misses away from being a 70 percent free throw shooting team. They are 206 out of 297 this year and Jordan Murphy’s 22 of 41 (53.7 %) is the main reason. Reggie Lynch was at about 64-65 percent from the foul line but has slipped 58 percent.
One of the Nate Mason goals was to shoot a higher percentages and that is happening. He’s made 42.6 percent of his 47 three-point attempts and he’s now at 40 percent shooting overall for the year. His overall numbers need to get better still but it’s a step in the right direction. Mason’s also totalled 58 assists to 22 turnovers which is excellent.
Iverson Fleming is coming off a huge week and St. John’s had trouble with him. The Gophers have the size and length to defend him and Agosto especially with Dupree McBrayer and Akeem Springs defending them. Springs should be solid in position, McBrayer has had a lot of trouble with ball screens and teams are sending him through several. Expect the Blackbirds to do the same. If the Gophs keep LIU going over their length they will defend their opponents just fine.
Nate Mason’s ball control, aggressive attack style has been slicing several teams lately and I would expect another double figure point, several assist, minimal turnover game. LIU Brooklyn was able to play with the Redmen who didn’t have LoVett but a veteran Mason is a different story.
Jerome Frink will present a decent challenge for Jordan Murphy. Frink is a 230 pound fifth year player that is the same height as Murphy. He had a great game against the thin and young St. John’s frontcourt while Murphy is coming off a double-double. It’s time for Minnesota to get Murphy some easier scores in space which would greatly help his confidence going forward. Also some post up chances after some ball activity and maybe a cut to the block where he can catch with some space to work one on one would help.
Also inside, I have to believe this is a game that Reggie Lynch completely controls the opponent. He will be bigger, more talented, and coming off a great game against Northern Illinois. Nura Zanna is a 4th year player who brings a lot of activity but Lynch should control.
The Blackbirds come in excited but beating a struggling St. John’s without two key guys in a game near campus is a lot different than coming to the frozen Minnesota weather on the road and playing a hot Gopher squad. The Gophers need to put together a Georgia Southern game tonight and I think they will as it’s getting near time for Big Ten season.
Minnesota 86 LIU Brooklyn 61