NEW YORK – Former LIU-Brooklyn coach Jim Ferry offered this succinct summary of the NEC final Tuesday night.
“This is not going to be a rock fight,” Ferry said with a laugh. “Not at all.”
Expect a few things when No. 3 LIU hosts No. 5 Mount St. Mary’s, other than Spike Lee settling into his baseline seat in Brooklyn.
First, this game will be a launching point for fresh coaching faces, as both LIU’s Jack Perri and Mount St. Mary’s Jamion Christian are first-year coaches.
Both let their teams fly, as Lee and the packed house will be treated to something a bit more aesthetically appealing than DePaul and Rutgers slogging it out over at Madison Square Garden.
Both LIU and MSM are defensively challenged, as LIU finished No. 11 in the league standings in field-goal percentage defense. Mount St. Mary’s finished last at No. 12.
That promises an up-tempo game, which should look familiar. LIU has established itself as one of the country’s top scoring teams the past few seasons, as it averages 79 points a game.
Christian, a former VCU assistant, runs a hybrid of Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” pressing defense. At The Mount, it’s known as “Mayhem.”
The Mount has clicked lately, winning nine consecutive games and thoroughly beating opponents as they’ve gained momentum. That streak included a 12-point home win over LIU. Smart has observed from afar that Christian, who at 30 is the country’s fifth youngest coach, has his team buying in.
“Not only have they won,” says Smart, “they’ve won handily.”
Whoever wins will be a tale of overcoming adversity.
The looming question for Mount St. Mary’s will be how they handle playing without injured guard Julian Norfleet. He’s not expected to play after a severe ankle sprain in the semi-final win over Robert Morris.
Under first-year coach Perri, LIU has been overcoming adversity all season. They lost the returning NEC Player of the Year, Julian Boyd, to an ACL tear in December. He was among the four LIU players suspended in the aftermath of an on-campus brawl. The suspensions led to a 1-3 start in NEC play.
Both teams raced to strong finishes, however, and the same is expected when they play in the NEC Final Tuesday night.
“The person with the ball last,” said Robert Morris Coach Andy Toole, “is going to win the game.”