NEW YORK (AP) — C.J. Garner was right around halfcourt when he saw Julian Boyd open near the basket. Perfect time for an alley-oop, the little guard thought.
Boyd leaped high for Garner’s on-target pass and threw down a dunk that must have had Spike Lee feeling as if he was watching Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudamire at Madison Garden instead of Long Island University in a 1,700-seat gym in Brooklyn.
Garner and Boyd provided the highlight of the night, and Jason Brickman directed LIU’s fast-breaking Blackbirds flawlessly to a 90-73 victory against Robert Morris in the Northeast Conference championship game Wednesday night.
In a rematch of last season’s NEC title game thriller, the top-seeded Blackbirds (25-8) didn’t need overtime this year to fend off the No. 3 seed Colonials (24-10) and earn a second consecutive NCAA berth.
“We set a goal to try to accomplish something and become a great team,” said coach Jim Ferry, in his 10th season at LIU. “To do it back-to-back … is pretty special.
“Heck, Spike Lee even showed up.”
Lee, who grew up in Brooklyn, strolled into the WRAC about 30 minutes before tip-off wearing a Knicks baseball cap, an orange hooded sweatshirt and black vest. The diminutive director took a seat in the front row behind the basket, right next to three young fans who spelled out LIU on their painted bare chests.
“He said we better win,” Ferry said Lee told him before the game. “He didn’t want to be the jinx.”
Garner scored 21 points, Boyd, the tourney MVP, had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Brickman had 18 points and an NEC championship game-record 11 assists.
“Jason, he’s the captain behind this ship. He’s the coach on the floor. Without him we couldn’t do this,” said Jamal Olasewere, who scored 12 points before fouling out.
Velton Jones, RMU’s leading scorer, was knocked hard to the floor in the opening minutes and came away with sore ribs. He played most of the game and scored 10 points, though he shot 3 for 12.
“It was hurting a little bit during the game but I tried to fight through as much as I could,” Jones said.
Freshman Lucky Jones scored 14 points for Robert Morris and Coron Williams added 13. The Colonials handed LIU one of its two NEC losses during the regular season, but this time around they couldn’t keep the Blackbirds’ speedy backcourt of Brickman and Garner in check.
“We tried to play LIU basketball against LIU — and they’re better at it,” RMU coach Andrew Toole said. “We tried to run up and down. We took quick shots.”
The Blackbirds love to push the pace and at their best they are low mid-major showtime. They nearly blew the lid off the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center on Flatbush Avenue when Garner found Boyd on that long alley-oop. Boyd’s dunk put LIU up 59-45 with 10 minutes left in the second half and had Lee handing out high-fives to the fans around him.
“Me and Julian, we have a connection on the alley-oops,” Garner said. “I knew to just throw it up there.”
Ferry said: “We practice it every day. I don’t think we ever threw one from that far.”
Garner’s fadeaway in the lane put LIU up 74-60 with 4:03 to go and Robert Morris couldn’t get it any closer than 10 the rest of the way.
LIU lost in the first round to North Carolina last year in the NCAA tournament. This time the Blackbirds would like to stay longer.
“A lot will depend on the seed and the matchup,” Ferry said. “I think we have the ability to beat someone.”
Robert Morris was making its fourth straight appearance in the NEC finals, trying to win three championships in four years.
“It’s just a disappointing feeling that we played the way we did,” Velton Jones said.
LIU has won 27 straight games at the WRAC. The Fort Greene neighborhood is a long way from Lexington, Ky., but only No. 1 Kentucky has a longer home winning streak in Division I.
The Blackbirds, who average an NEC-best 81 points, controlled the pace over the last 8 minutes of the first half to build a 39-31 lead at the break. Though Ferry could tell even earlier that it was LIU’s type of game.
“I sensed it probably in the first three minutes. Even though they had the lead we were playing our tempo,” he said.
Brickman attacked the basket at every opportunity and got his teammates easy shots with seven assists in the first half. The Blackbirds shot 53 percent for the game.
Brickman found Brandon Thompson in the corner for a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in the first half that had the packed crowd hopping, including one very famous film director.
“It’s definitely a great feeling to be able to repeat,” Garner said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)