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LIU vs. Wagner in NEC tilt Saturday

Long Island forward Jamal Olasewere (1) walks off

Long Island forward Jamal Olasewere (1) walks off the court after garnering his fifth foul in the second half of an East Regional NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game against North Carolina. (March 18, 2011) Credit: AP

Ok, so it’s not exactly the Celtics against the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Final, but for one day we can pretend that on Saturday night LIU Brooklyn vs. Wagner can be treated as such.

The game can be seen live on ESPNU at 7 p.m.

Both programs have begun to capture the eyes of college basketball fans from all over the region. Wagner (15-3, 6-1 NEC), with wins over Princeton, Pittsburgh and Air Force, has won eight straight. LIU (13-6, 7-0), which is riding a 27-game regular-season NEC winning streak and a 19-game home victory streak, has also won eight straight games.

"We understand what we are up against. Jim (Ferry) has developed a program that is the standard of the Northeast Conference,” said Wagner coach Danny Hurley. “They haven't lost a league game in almost a year which is unheard of.”

Wagner’s no slouch either. Two solid recruiting classes and a third for next season that could even be better has turned Wagner into a program that will be around for a while.

"We have had a great start to our season and we come in with confidence in where we are heading as a program,” Hurley added. “It will be a great college basketball scene on Saturday night. We are just excited to be a part of it as the national audience is great for our league, which is very underrated."

LIU’s Ferry also understands what his Blackbirds will be in for on Saturday night. "It's going to be a battle between two tough teams," said Ferry.

LIU is led by junior forwards Julian Boyd (16.8 ppg, 9.4 reb) and Jamal Olasewere (15.9 ppg, 7.4 reb). Both players eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau this season. Olasewere passed the mark in Thursday night’s 77-62 win over Mount St. Mary’s, while Boyd did it during an 82-64 win over FDU on January 12.

Sophomore sharpshooter Latif Rivers (15.4 ppg, 36 pct 3%) and backcourt mates Jonathon Williams (13.6 ppg) and Tyler Murray (12.2 ppg) lead the way for the Seahawks.

There are other programs vying for the NEC crown, like Central Connecticut State (9-8, 6-1), St. Francis, NY (8-10, 5-2) and Robert Morris (14-6, 5-2), but many believe LIU and Wagner will emerge as the top two teams in the conference.

What does this game mean for each team? A win for LIU would give it a two-game lead over Wagner in the NEC standings. The Blackbirds topped Wagner, 78-73, on December 1. If Wagner can prevail at home, the Seahawks will pull into a tie for first in the league.

Winning the league title is an important step, because it guarantees the champion a trip to the NIT should it falter in the NEC tournament. The NEC has always been a one-bid conference, so neither team will get at-large bid if it doesn’t win the conference tournament title. Winning the league title also gives the victor home court advantage for the duration of the NEC Tournament.

So now are talking Clash of the Titans? We are for one day.

New York Sports