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LIU continues home dominance in win over St. Francis

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The Long Island University men’s basketball team was at home Thursday night. Naturally, the Blackbirds won going away, jumped on St. Francis (Pa.) form the start, built an early double-digit lead and prevailed, 85-71, at the Wellness Center.

It was LIU’s 11th consecutive victory in downtown Brooklyn. They have yet to lose in the gym to any Northeast Conference foes. In fact, they’re only defeat was a 68-61 loss to Iona on Dec. 10.

“We’re more comfortable and we’re more focused,” explained junior Jaytornah Wisseh, who scored a game-high 19 points and added six assists. “We get to sleep in our own beds and practice in our own gym.”

Added senior Tyrone Mattison: “We’re composed here. We do a better job setting the tone and cherishing the ball.”

Wisseh and coach Jim Ferry said just like anyone else, LIU played better at home. But the home-court advantage the Blackbirds have carved out is a distinct one. The crowds they draw aren’t necessarily boisterous or too big, yet Wisseh said LIU makes a point to “not disappoint any of the people who come to see us.”

“We have one more loss than we would like,” Ferry said, referring to the loss to Iona.

The coach praised his team’s effort, particularly at the start. They jumped out to a quick 12-2 lead 3:38 in, and put the hammer down by halftime, taking a 49-30 advantage. They shot 61 percent in the first half and 57 percent altogether.

“We really came out with energy and focus,” he said. “We had a sense of urgency.”

On Senior Night, Mattison scored all 11 of his points, including three 3-pointers, in the opening half. The win was extra important to Mattison, one of  two seniors – Ron Manigault is the other.

“I wanted to go out with a bang,” he said.

Lucas Faggiano added 13 points for LIU (14-12, 10-5 NEC) and Kyle Johnson had 12. Julian Boyd and David Hicks each chipped in 10. Devin Sweetney paced St. Francis (5-21, 2-13) with 35 points.

LIU has a chance to do damage in the March. They are 10-5 in the NEC – the program’s most conference wins since the 2005-06 season – just a game back of Mount St. Mary’s for second place. The difference between second and third is important, particularly considering how well the Blackbirds have played at home. It would mean an extra home postseason game.

Then again, LIU will need to improve on the road if it to make the NCAA Tournament. The splits are extreme.

On the road, the Blackbirds are 2-6 in conference. They lost to Mount by 26 on the road, but beat them by six in Brooklyn. They lost twice to inferior opponents Monmouth and Bryant, coughing up late leads in each setback. At home, against the same foes, the result was easy victories.

“On the road you have to excel down the stretch,” Wisseh said. “The mistakes you can make at home, you can’t make on the road.”

The Blackbirds’ struggles on the road, Ferry said, are also due to a quick recovery time between playing road games on a Saturday afternoon after playing at home on a Thursday night. Plus, they have yet to play they’re best game on both ends of the court.

“When we do,” Wisseh said, “it won’t matter, home or away.”

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