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Cruising altitude: Blackbirds flying high after major road test

Fresh face: Blackbirds freshman guard Jashaun Agosto scored double-digit points, including 20 against Northeastern on Nov. 19, as Long Island University won two of three at the Steven Wright Classic.
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Three games in three days is a rare challenge for a college basketball team, but the Long Island University men’s squad mostly rose to the occasion.

The Blackbirds competed in the annual Steven Wright Classic at Boston University Nov. 19–21, going 2–1 for the weekend with victories over Northeastern and Maine and a tough loss to the host Terriers. The wins were a major step forward for the young Long Island University squad and a chance for head coach Jack Perri to assess his roster’s talent during the first road trip of the season.

“A lot of guys got some minutes,” Perri said. “There was some good, some bad. We’ll get to evaluate that, and I think that helps our guys. They see if they work hard they’ll get an opportunity in the game. It’s up to them to make something of that opportunity when they’re out there.”

The Blackbirds played without senior shooting guard Joel Hernandez, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a hand injury in the team’s opener earlier this month. Perri will have a tough time directly replacing Hernandez, but the coach saw a few players impress over the weekend, including freshmen guards Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts.

“They’re both a little small,” Perri said. “But I can play them together, because they have a really good feel for the game. That was exciting to see.”

The Blackbirds got the weekend slate started with a 78–74 victory over Northeastern University, coming back from a double-digit halftime deficit. Agosto scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half and all of Batts’ 13 points came in the final 20 minutes of play.

“We kept our poise in that one,” Perri said. “They took a lead against us. We didn’t panic, and we ended up overtaking them late in that game.”

The Blackbirds were not so fortunate the next day. Long Island University fell 86–69 to Boston University despite a team-best 15 points from Agosto. In just 11 minutes of play, Bradley scored 11 points and went three-of-six from trey range.

“He can really shoot the basketball,” Perri said of Bradley. “He’s a big-time three-point shooter and he helps space the floor for our big guys.”

The Blackbirds shot just 39.3 percent from the field in the loss, and Perri said his team “didn’t have the same energy” in its second-straight game.

The squad dug deep against Maine in the final matchup, leading wire-to-wire in a 71–66 victory as senior Iverson Fleming packed his stat sheet. He scored a career-high 26 points, going six-of-11 from the field and a perfect 12-for-12 from the line.

“I just try to do whatever is best for my team,” said Fleming, who averaged just over four points a game last year. “For us to get the win, that’s most important.”

In the two games prior, Fleming hit four of his 15 shot attempts.

“I was so happy for Iverson,” Perri said. “He’s worked so hard in practice and he got off to such a tough start to the season making shots. He does everything else so well. He’s a great leader. But you could see it on his face, he wanted to make shots. He wanted to take it upon himself when Joel Hernandez got hurt to kind of balance the load scoring-wise.”

The Blackbirds will miss Hernandez throughout the season, but the Classic gave the squad an opportunity to see just who will fill that void. It wasn’t a perfect weekend, but it was a step in the right direction, and Perri is confident of his team heading forward.

“If these guys need to come in, they can,” he said. “And they’ll be solid for us.”

Posted 12:00 am, November 23, 2016
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