Monday, December 29, 2014

Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival at Barclays

The Barclays Center opened in September 2012.    It has quickly become a sports and entertainment force in thwe New York City Metro Area.  The Barclays Center is the home of the Brooklyn Nets and the soon to be home of the New York Islanders.   It has also become a major stop for big name music tours, as evidence by Elton John playing at Barclays on New Year's Eve.

The Barclays Center has also quickly become a major venue for college basketball, having hosted many games and tournaments in the past two plus years.   Yesterday, for the third college basketball season in a row, Barclays was hosting its Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival, a triple header of college basketball, featuring local and national teams.   It also happened to be the third season in a row that my good friend Tony Terentieff, aka Tieff, and I attended a event.    In the past, teams such as West Virginia, Michigan, Boston College, VCU and Kansas State among others, have played in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival.

This season's event had more of a local flavor to it, with nationally ranked St John's heading the billing, along with Hofstra, in its second appearance at the Barclays Center and LIU Brooklyn.  The Red Storm, which is the only team to have played in now all three Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festivals, took on the Green Wave of Tulane, which was playing in its second Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival in a row and has also now played in the Barclays Center three years in a row (they took on Hofstra in another Barclays Center tripleheader back in 2012).  The Green Wave have a solid alumni base in New York and again, a contingent of their fans showed up to see their team.   But their fan base paled in comparison to the hometown Johnnies, with their legions of fans in attendance.

I had got my tickets through the Hofstra ticket office, so naturally we were sitting in the Pride section of the arena.   When we got there, you could quickly see that they "evil black curtained" off the upper level seats, so only the lower bowl seats were accessible for the tournament.   It was only fitting that Fairfield would be playing in the third game of the festival.  I am sure the Bridgeport Arena native Stags felt at home at Barclays.

As a sea of red watched on, Tulane, which had won nine of its first eleven games, albeit their best win was over a struggling Mississippi State team, came out strong.  Louis Dabney scored the first five Green Wave points and Tulane took a 9-6 lead.  

But the Red Storm are ranked #17 nationally for a reason and that reason is their defense, which clamped down on the Green Wave.  In the span of less than three minutes, St John's forced four turnovers.  Meanwhile Sir'Dominic Porter was starting to go to town, as he had two baskets and assisted on another on an 8-0 spurt to put St John's up 14-9.  

Tulane called timeout to try to stop the bleeding.  Briefly, it seemed to work, as Payton Henson hit a jumper to bring the Green Wave to within three, 14-11.  However, that's as close as Tulane would get the rest of the way.   That was due in large part to the aforementioned Red Storm defense.

During a 17-5 St John's run that put the Johnies up 31-16 and basically the game out of reach for Tulane, the Red Storm held the Green Wave to 2 of 12 from the field.  St John's swarms to the ball, plays great help defense and they have the ultimate intimidator inside, Chris Obekpa.    If Obekpa is not blocking a shot, he is altering one.  In one instance, his mere presence resulted in Tulane Center Ryan Smith, figuring Obekpa would challenge the shot, chucking a shot high off the backboard so that Obekpa couldn't block it.  Obekpa, who never attempted to block the shot, just watched as the shot banged off the glass and then clanked hard off the rim. Obekpa had four blocks on the game in twenty two minutes of action.

After Tulane had come within eleven, 33-22,  the Red Storm would score the final fourteen points of the first half to put the game away.  A Phil Greene IV alley oop pass to Rysheed Jordan for the dunk capped the run, putting St John's up 47-22 at the half.  Pointer was especially dominant in the first half, scoring fifteen points and adding three assists.  

The last twenty minutes of the game basically came down to whether Tulane could keep the losing margin under thirty points.  Tulane managed to hold serve, scoring as many points as St John's did in the second half.   The Green Wave may have found solace in that, but they still lost by twenty five, 82-57.

Pointer and Dominic Harrison were responsible for most of the offense St John's needed on the day.   They would combine for forty five points on a very efficient 16 of 26 shooting from the field and 12 of 13 from the line.  Pointer was a stat sheet stuffer, as he had four assists, four rebounds, seven steals and two blocks to go with his twenty four points.  Jordan added twelve points for the Red Storm, who had fourteen steals on the day.

Dabney and Jonathan Stark were the only double figure scorers for Tulane, scoring twelve and fifteen points respectively on 11 of 26 shooting from the field.  The rest of the Green Wave shot 11 of 32 from the field.

The second game of the tripleheader featured a local battle between Hofstra, my long time home as a student and as an administrator, and LIU Brooklyn.  The Pride came into the game with their first losing streak of the season after winning seven of their first nine games.  They lost at Columbia and followed that up with a loss at home to LaSalle.  Meanwhile, the Blackbirds had won four games in a row after losing their first seven games.  One streak was guaranteed to continue at the end of this game.

The start of this game somewhat mirrored the start of the first game.  LIU Brooklyn came out the aggressor and took a 7-5 lead.  After Dion Nesmith tied the game at seven, both teams went scoreless for the next three minutes.  Finally, Moussa Kone would hit on a layup to put Hofstra in front to stay, 9-7.   Gerrell Martin hit a three pointer to cut the Pride lead to one, 11-10, with a little under twelve minutes left in the half.

From there it was all Hofstra, as the Pride outscored the Blackbirds 34-15 the rest of the half.   Ameen Tanksley did most of the damage, scoring fifteen first half points, thirteen of which came over the final eight minutes and seven seconds of the first half.   His jumper with forty seconds in the half gave Hofstra a 45-25 halftime lead.  For the second game in a row, a team took a twenty point or more lead into the half.

LIU Brooklyn showed more life than Tulane did after halftime, as the Blackbirds outscored the Pride 12-4 over the first three plus minutes of the second half.  Martin Hermannsson, part of LIU Brooklyn's dynamic Iceland freshman duo, along with Elvar Fridriksson, assisted on two straight baskets.  The second of which, a layup by Iverson Fleming, cut the Hofstra lead to twelve, 49-37.

But Hofstra had their dynamic duo of their own in Tanksley and point guard Juan'ya Green.  Green assisted on Tanksley's three pointer to start a 10-0 spurt over the span of about three minutes.  Moussa Kone's layup capped the spurt, which put the Pride up 59-37.  

From there, LIU Brooklyn would only get as close as fifteen, 70-55 with a little over six minutes left.  From there, the dynamic duo of Tanksley and Green would seal the deal, as they led Hofstra on a 14-0 run, capped again by another assist by Green, this time on a three pointer by Bernardi to make the score 84-55.

This resulted in a huge roar from the Hofstra crowd.  But the roar was not a result of Bernardi's three.  The Pride faithful had been keeping track of Green's stats on the scoreboard.  Green easily had over double digits in points by scoring the first two baskets of the second half for Hofstra.   Then he grabbed his tenth rebound with a little over three minutes left.

But what Green is really known for is being an assist machine, as he averages nearly seven assists per game.  When he fed Bernardi for the three, he had a triple double, 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.  It was the first time in Hofstra program history that a player had a triple double in a game.  When you think of all the Hofstra greats including Rich Laurel, Speedy Claxton, Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Charles Jenkins, none of them ever had a triple double.  Green is the first.

Hofstra would go for the 88-62 win over LIU Brooklyn.   The Pride shot over fifty percent from the field, including a smoldering 14 of 27 from beyond the arc.  Tanskley led the long range assault as he scored a career high 32 points on 12 of 20 shooting from the field.  He also added eight rebounds, as the Pride outrebounded the Blackbirds 45-33.  Nesmith added thirteen points off the bench, while Bernardi added twelve points, all from beyond the arc.

For LIU Brooklyn, Nura Zanna led the way with fourteen points and nine rebounds.  Fleming added thirteen points off the bench and Joel Hernandez added another ten off the pine for the Blackbirds.  LIU Brooklyn was held to thirty five percent shooting, including 7 of 24 from three point land.

After the Hofstra game ended, Tieff and I headed out of Barclays.  There was still the third game between Loyola-Maryland and Fairfield.  But the Stags would be left to deal with the Evil Black Curtain on their own.  It was time to head back to Long Island for our traditional Dairy Queen Victory Blizzard at the newest DQ franchise in Levittown.    Nothing like a DQ Blizzard, especially after a win for the alma mater.

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