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Fresh faces help Blackbirds soar

The last .500 or better season that the Blackbirds boys basketball team from Long Island University put together on the court came back during the winter of 1997-1998. That was the year they won the Northeast Conference regular season championship, finished runner-up in its tournament, and Charlie Jones won his second straight Conference Player of the Year award. In the 2004-2005 season, LIU fielded a decent team at almost .500 with a 14-15 slate. Then last year injuries to some key standout players was one of the reasons the Blackbirds played under .500 ball and they failed to make the post season league tournament. “Over the years it was a series of things, including trying to find the right coach to lead them, and trying to find the right mix of players,” said LIU Athletic Director John Suarez. Last year, the team seemed to have the right players, but unfortunately a seven-game losing streak coupled with injuries to key players, and the absence of Kellen Allen after the 11th game of the season, sidelined because of an enlarged heart, certainly dampened the Blackbirds’ drive toward the top of the standings. “Last year marked a lot of injuries,” said forward Eugene Kotorobai. “And we didn’t jell as a team. Kellen and I were out and Aubin [Scott] was hurt.” For this season, the Blackbirds went out and made some nice additions to the program bringing in four freshmen, including starting guard David Hicks. And Allen, fully recovered from last season, has really come on and impressed the coaching staff. “He’s the best recruit we have right now,” said Coach Jim Ferry. “He’s the anchor of our program.” “Now I’m back in shape and feel better than ever,” said Allen. When the Blackbirds defeated visiting Wagner, 85-65, in a Northeast Conference game on January 17, it marked an upset victory for the locals as the Seahawks were undefeated at the time in the league. “Any team can beat any team in the league in a given game,” added Suarez. “We’re more unselfish that we were last year when everybody was trying to do their own ‘thing,’” Allen said. “Now we have more balanced scoring that we did last year, and are harder to stop.” Against Wagner, the Blackbirds played a great team game. And it’s teamwork and defense that wins games. “We have been playing unselfish, every body looks for one another and we knocked down open shots,” said Allen. “All of our wins have been by a team effort. We get the ball inside and I cause a double team and get my shooters to make open shots and they knock them down.” During the month of December, the Blackbirds were on a winning streak, winning six out of eight games, including five straight and then lost two in a row to open January, and defeated Wagner with four players scoring in double figures, led by Eugene Kotorobai’s 24 points and 11 rebounds. “The winning streak was wonderful,” said Allen. “We have to get back to winning..” “If we play like the way we played against Wagner, I don’t think anyone in the conference can stop us,” said Kotorobai. “We’ve been jelling and playing together. I think this is a great team and a great atmosphere to be around.” Added Coach Kerry: “After we slipped and fell a little off we came back and played extremely well (in our games), prior to the Christmas break. When we came back we lost a little bit of our edge and ball movement. We focused on the things that we did wrong. We needed to do better.” They certainly showed it against Wagner. “In this game our guys did a great job of setting the tone of our game, and matching their intensity, which we need to continue to do as we’re still young,” said Ferry. Out of 14 players on the roster, there are three seniors – Kotorobai, Paska Marcheliunas and Allen. The rest are underclassmen. “[W]e have younger guys who came in and play with great passion and energy,” said Ferry. “It’s a great team. We have players who care about each other.” The Blackbirds play Monmouth February 2, and then three straight home games against Quinnipiac on February 14, Central Connecticut State February 16 and St. Francis College in the Battle of Brooklyn on February 21. For more information, go to www.liuathletics.com/

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