It was hard to tell if the water coming from the face of LIU coach Jim Ferry was that of sweat or of tears. In all likelihood it was a mixture of both. It was just that type of night for the Blackbirds who blew a late game lead on their home court to Robert Morris before grinding out the win in overtime, 85-82 over the two-time defending champions.
Russell Johnson, who had hit a three at the end of regulation to tie it, had 0.8 seconds left in overtime to do the same, but it was well short and as the buzzer sounded, many of the 1,300 fans who had filled the Wellness and Recreation and Athletic Center to the brim rushed the court in absolute jubilation as LIU had captured their first NEC Championship in 14 long years.
Located just off of Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn, LIU isn't a beautiful school, and the WRAC isn't a stunning facility. Yet these Blackbirds found a way to be tough and just force their way to victory. They were led by sophomore sensation Jamal Olasaware who had 31-points on the night to lead all scoring.
Long Island is the best offensive team in the league (sixth in the division one) and Robert Morris is the best defensive team in the conference. This led to what many were hoping would be a thrilling matchup. They were not disappointed.
Leading 72-64 with 1:51 to go, it looked like things were about to get wrapped up. The student sections were moving down the aisle, getting ready to storm the court. Then the unthinkable happened. In the span of 10 seconds the Colonials cut the lead to three off a tip shot by Johnson, then a steal by Velton Jones and a three by Gary Wallace. LIU made the lead five once again, but a layup by Jones sliced the lead to three. With 55 seconds to go Olasaware missed Jason Brickman on the pass and turned it over, leading to a three by Johnson with 16 seconds to go.
In overtime, Robert Morris led most of the first half of it, but LIU took an 82-80 lead with 1:16 to go, and never looked back.
LIU is one of those teams that gets everyone involved. They play so unselfishly and no player averages more than 13.1 ppg on their team. They are so team-oriented and you can bet that no four or five seed is hoping that they draw these Blackbirds in the first round. They are a projected 13-15 seed for the first round as they finish up what has been an incredible season.
They are currently 27-5, and have won 13 in a row, the longest current streak in the country. They have also won 21 out of 22. Their last loss at home was to Robert Morris on December 3rd. They also lead the nation in road wins with 13 and lead the nation in drawing fouls.
So dust off those dancin' shoes LIU, cause it's time to party!
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