Halftime didn’t seem to quell the momentum Long Island University built to close the first half. Instead it only enhanced it, especially for Kyle Johnson.
“We just kept telling everybody just go straight up from here,” he said. “No let downs and I think we did a good job of that.”
The sophomore guard made sure of it.
He scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half, including the first seven. Johnson capped a 15-0 Blackbirds run over the end of the first half and into the second that built a 13-point lead and added nine rebounds. Bryant would close to within nine late as Long Island went on to a 76-61 a non-conference victory at the Wellness Center Wednesday night.
“Whenever Kyle makes shots it’s a big difference for us,” Blackbirds coach Jim Ferry said. “Kyle is one of these guys. He’s a scorer. He’s a shooter. He may miss his first couple, but you stay with him as he gets good looks at the basket.”
The win is LIU’s third straight in the last five days, including Northeast Conference victories over Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut State, to put the Blackbirds (7-7, 3-1 NEC) in a tie for first place. Bryant, which began a four-year transition to Division I this season, is currently an Independent and will join the NEC next season, but will not be eligible for the conference championship until the 2012-2013 season. The two schools square off again Jan 24 at Bryant.
“They’re tough,” Johnson said. “I think that a lot of teams take them lightly. You can’t take them lightly because they surprise you.”
Johnson went on his own personal 7-0 run to start the second half, connecting on a 3-pointer, scoring a put back and even took a charge. His fast-break layup gave Long Island a 38-25 advantage just 2:08 in. Michael Culpo came off the bench to score 12 points on four 3-pointers as the Blackbirds shot 42.6 percent from the field in the second half and led by as many as 16. Freshman Julian Boyd had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Peter Lambert led Bryant with 18 points.
“The thing is we were a little fatigued,” Johnson said. “It took some time to pick it up.”
A tight first half saw the Blackbirds, who next play at Wagner on Jan. 10, mostly playing catch up and struggling to score against Bryant’s aggressive 2-3 defense. Long Island shot just 22.2 percent from field and 4-of-12 from 3-point range and watched Bryant (2-12) big men Jerrann Wright, who scored just seven first half points, and Nick Pontes (10 points) combine for 15 of the Bulldogs 18 points in the point in the first half. The Bulldogs’ largest lead was five, but they were controlling the game’s tempo. All that changed with 2:00 remaining as the Blackbirds were able to get to the basket and were more active on the boards during an 8-0 run to end the half, which included five points from Boyd and a blocked shot.
“He is still trying to learn the game as its flying by him and here he comes out and gets a double-double,” Ferry said. “He is going to be a tremendous player for us.”