The dream dies hard for the Long Island University Blackbirds

Here they are — your NCAA tourney-bound LIU Blackbirds!
Photo by Ted Levin

Bye, bye Blackbirds.

Long Island University’s Cinderella run for the NCAA title turned into a pumpkin on Friday night, as the gritty squad lost to the heavily favored University of North Carolina Tar Heels, 102-87.

The 15th-seeded LIU, winners of 13 straight games and the hottest team coming into the nation’s premier basketball tournament, struggled with their outside shooting, and were overwhelmed by the superior size of the second-seeded Tar Heels, whose massive front court accounted for 84 of the team’s total points.

Julian Boyd scored 18 points, C.J. Garner dropped 16 and Jamal Olasewere had 15 for LIU, which went on a 9–0 rally to tie the game in the first half, before being worn down in the second half.

Tyler Zeller, UNC’s 7-foot center, led all scorers with 32 points, and dominated the paint with teammate John Henson.

UNC shot 52 percent compared to LIU’s 38 percent, had 10 blocks compared to one, and out-rebounded the Blackbirds 45-34.

This was the Blackbirds first trip to The Dance since 1997, and with the weight of a borough on their shoulders, they began the game tight and sloppy.

North Carolina — practically playing a home game as the contest was staged in Charlotte — jumped to a 21–14 lead by the middle of the first half using their superior size to out-board the Blackbirds and convert on the other end.

UNC’s Henson scored a career-high 20 points in the first half alone, capitalizing on his lanky 6-10 frame.

LIU settled down, and led by a tough zone defense would storm back from a 14–point deficit to tie the score at 33-33 with under five minutes to play in the first half on a three-pointer by Boyd and a dunk by Kenny Onyechi.

“We have been down in games before so we knew that a comeback was in us,” Boyd said after the contest. “Once we tied it up, we knew our crowd would keep us in the game.”

But as quickly as it was tied, LIU became undone. UNC went on a 20-9 run for the remainder of the half, which ended on a rainbow three by LIU senior guard David Hicks.

UNC’s Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams stressed defense to start the second half, and LIU’s players, and coach Jim Ferry, had no answer.

The half began with three blocked shots, as UNC’s lead swelled to 21 points after just five minutes of play.

But Garner and guard Jason Brickman staged a furious comeback, helping to shave the lead to just 10.

But it would get no closer.

“I thought our kids played their hearts out tonight,” Ferry said. “I thought we competed the best we could. We out-rebound people like crazy, but it was really hard.”

The Blackbirds earned a ticket to the party after claiming the Northeast Conference title from Robert Morris with a 85-82 overtime win.