NEW YORK (AP) — No need to wait for Jay-Z and the Nets to arrive. Long Island University has already brought big-time basketball back to Brooklyn.
Jamal Olasewere scored seven of his 31 points in overtime and LIU earned its first NCAA tournament bid in 14 years with an 85-82 overtime victory against two-time defending champion Robert Morris in the Northeast Conference title game Wednesday night.
After having a career game in the biggest game of his career, Olasewere had a warning for the Blackbirds’ NCAA opponents — yes, he expects there to be more than one.
“They better watch out the way we’ve been playing. We’re taking this to a national stage,” he said.
Jason Brickman made two free throws with 7 seconds left to give top-seeded LIU (27-5) an 85-82 lead. Russell Johnson, who made a 3-pointer with 16.8 left for the Colonials (18-14) to send the game to OT, missed a potential tying 3 with the clock winding down.
But the rebound bounced out of bounds with 0.6 left and third-seeded Robert Morris had one more chance. Johnson’s catch-and-shoot 3 at the buzzer from the wing hit the front of the rim and within seconds Blackbirds fans sprinted on to the court to celebrate the school’s first NEC championship since 1997.
“It felt good,” Johnson said of his last shot. “Good look doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go in.”
In front of a standing room-only crowd of about 1,700 at the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center, a short walk from the construction site which will eventually become the Nets home arena and around the corner from Brooklyn’s famed Flatbush Avenue, LIU secured the fourth NCAA bid in school history.
Rapper, mogul and Nets minority owner Jay-Z didn’t make the trip for this one, but it’s not too late for him and his wife, Beyonce, to get on board the Blackbirds’ bandwagon.
Johnson led RMU with 22 points, and Velton Jones had 15 of his 20 in the second half. Robert Morris took Villanova to overtime last season in the NCAA tournament before bowing out in the first round and was trying to become the first team in NEC history to win three straight championships.
“It’s worse than the Villanova loss,” Jones said.
After Johnson’s clutch 3 capped a 10-2 run to tie it at 74, LIU’s C.J. Garner missed a high-arching runner at the buzzer and the game went to overtime.
The Blackbirds weren’t deflated by letting the lead slip away.
“There wasn’t one kid there with a head down,” said coach Jim Ferry, who in his ninth season with LIU is one victory short of the school’s single-season record.
The 1936-37 LIU team went 28-3 led by Hall of Fame coach Clair Bee.
Ferry searched far and wide to assemble this crew. His team includes four players from Canada and three from Texas and only two from the New York-New Jersey area.
Olasewere is from Silver Spring, Md., and he didn’t come to LIU to just win conference titles.
“When I decided to come here, I told coach I was ready to win a national championship,” he said.
“They don’t lack confidence,” Ferry said with a smile.
Brickman and Garner, the 5-foot-10 guards who fuel the fast-paced Blackbirds, each scored 15 points as LIU extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 13 games.
Long Island came in ranked sixth in the country in scoring, intent on pushing the pace against a Robert Morris team which uses a far more deliberate style.
The Blackbirds had the tempo they were looking for in the first half, but shot only 34 percent.
Johnson’s three 3s and 11 points helped Robert Morris take a 33-32 lead at halftime.
Olasewere had 17 points in the half.
Behind Brickman, a freshman from San Antonio, Texas, and Garner, Olasewere’s high school teammate, LIU raced out of the gate to start the second half. Brickman hit a 3 to put the Blackbirds up 50-41.
Robert Morris steadied itself behind the inside game of Lijah Thompson, but LIU kept pushing the pace behind its speedy guards and the top defensive team in the league in terms of scoring had a difficult time keeping up.
Thompson finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Julian Boyd’s slam off an alley-oop from Garner made it 72-64 with 2:28 remaining, and the Blackbirds could hardly contain their smiles, sensing a trip to the NCAA was only a few stops away.
But Robert Morris showed championship poise and for the first time the NEC men’s title game went to overtime.
From there, LIU responded by dethroning the champ and stealing at least a bit of attention from those powerhouses in the Big East playing their tournament about a dozen subway stops away at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s all so surreal right now,” Olasewere said.
Do the Blackbirds have a shot in the NCAA Tournament? Let us know in the comments below…
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