Terriers best blackbirds – St. Francis College wins the ‘Battle of Brooklyn’

By Robert Elkin

One couldn’t ask for a more exciting basketball game and finish than last week’s 33rd “Battle of Brooklyn’ between Long Island University and St. Francis College, two institutions belonging to the Northeast Conference and located a short walk from each other in this downtown section of the borough. Since the February 21 game was held at Long Island University’s home, on paper the Blackbirds were the slight favorites, but after Ron Manigault’s lay up put the Blackbirds ahead 44-34 almost midway into the second half, the Terriers capitalized on cold shooting by the hosts, went on a tear of their own, and took the lead 48-47, on way to a 67-64 decision. Good defense was the key to the Terriers’ success. “Defending is one of the things we haven’t done this year,” St. Francis Coach Brian Nash said. “We really haven’t gotten stops when we needed to. This time when we couldn’t score, we got stops.” “And we got a lot of free throws,” added Jamaal Womack, whose team converted on 16 of 27 charity tosses and took down a defensive rebound on a LIU missed shot to end the game. Kayode Ayeni, a substitute who came into action for Ricky Cadell almost five minutes into the first half, turned in a tremendous game, scored 18 points and took downs six rebounds, and certainly impressed everyone around him. A committee of ‘table personnel,’ including the stat crew and scorers, named him as Most Valuable Player of the Battle of Brooklyn. “It’s an honor to get the MVP of a game like this,” Kayode said. “It’s a huge game and I played hard. I’m only a sophomore. And I have to be the sixth, seventh and eighth man off the bench. I do what I have to do. Winning this game is our high point this season.” “It was a great effort by our kids,” Nash added. “And when ‘K’ pulls down those offensive rebounds, he can be a special player for us.” Ayeni is a resident of Canarsie and product of Transit Tech High School in East New York, where he was an all-city player. He then prepped at Laurenberg in North Carolina before coming to St. Francis College. “We like to recruit local kids,” Nash said. “Hopefully, they could stay home and play with pride for St. Francis.” Ayeni came back home because he had an opportunity to do so and play in Brooklyn so his family and friends could watch him. He wanted to make the best of his college opportunity. “Playing in this game is a little more special for me because I’m from Brooklyn and I know a lot of people out there watching,” he said of the win over LIU. Last year the 6’6” swingman did good and started five of 29 games while learning the college game. But now he has more confidence in himself, and tried to be a better offensive player. He still has to work on his handle and has to get bigger. The Terriers seem to be a second half team. “All year we’ve dug ourselves a hole in the first half and always found a way to come back,” Ayeni said. “We really wanted this game. We worked a little bit harder and got the win.” “About time something went right for us,” senior guard Womack said. “We lost so many close games this season. And we lost some games in overtime.” The Terriers lost twice by nine straight games this season and seven times they lost by five or less points. “We were always ‘there,’” Womack said. “And I’m finally happy that our team won today [against LIU].” With a frustrating year, the game was more than just a win to the Terriers. “This game means a lot to the area, school and kids,” said Nash. “I know it means a lot to our coaches. Jim [Ferry, LIU Coach] and I know each other well. This is the first [Battle of Brooklyn] game we won since I’ve been here at St. Francis.” Over 1,100 cheering fans were treated to a most thrilling Battle of Brooklyn contest; the attendance was almost double the average for all of LIU’s home games. “It’s the best game of the year,” noted Blackbirds’ athletic director John Suarez. “The atmosphere was just great.” Both teams are still in the running for a playoff tournament spot as the top eight colleges in the 11-team N.E.C. qualify for the “second season.”

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