Long Island University gutted its way to its biggest win in over a decade last night, dispatching Robert Morris 85-82 in overtime and earning a berth in the NCAA tournament as Northeast Conference champs.
Before a packed crowd of cheering 2,000 fans, mostly from LIU, the Blackbirds held off the surging Pittsburghers — and will now enter the nation’s premier college basketball tourney, which starts during the week of March 14.
After a close first half with the visitors ahead 33-32 at intermission, the Blackbirds took command in the second half, chalking up a nine-point lead after just six minutes of play. With just 2:29 remaining in regulation, the pride of Downtown was still up by eight points.
The Colonials came back, sending the game into extra time on a three-pointer by Russell Johnson with 17 seconds left in regulation.
“They came back strong in the second half,” LIU Coach Jim Ferry said.
But clutch baskets and free throws by Jamal Olasewere and Jason Brickman clinched the game for the locals.
Olasewere, named Most Valuable Player of the NEC tournament, led all players with 31 points and 11 rebounds.
Coming off the bench, Brickman once again turned in another tremendous game in the backcourt. He’s one of the better first year guards in the Northeast Conference.
“When I came into the college [in September], I didn’t expect that we’d go all the way,” he said. “But I knew that by coming here we would have a great team,”
The Blackbirds entered the NEC tournament as favorites after winning the regular-season title.
Ferry, in his ninth year at the helm, achieved what he wanted to do as he already claimed two of the three titles — but now comes the next step-the Big Show.
After the game, it was pandemonium at the LIU campus, including the dormitories, and at the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center, where the tournament was contested.
After the game, the LIU students and residents of the community stormed the court and congratulated the players — but it was an orderly mob.
“It was the biggest crowd we’ve ever had in this facility,” said an LIU spokesman.