NEW YORK – Jamal Olasewere scored seven of his 31 points in overtime and Long Island University earned its first NCAA tournament bid in 14 years with an 85-82 overtime victory over two-time defending champion Robert Morris in the Northeast Conference title game Wednesday night.
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.
In front of a standing room-only crowd of about 1,300 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.
Johnson led RMU with 22 points, and Velton Jones had 15 of his 20 in the second half.
After Johnson's clutch 3 capped a 10-2 run to tie it at 74 for Robert Morris, LIU's C.J. Garner missed a high-arching runner at the buzzer and the game went to overtime.
Brickman and Garner, the 5-foot-10 guards who fuel the fast-paced Blackbirds attack, each scored 15 points.
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, as the rest of the Blackbirds went 7 of 25 from the floor.
Behind Brickman and Garner, 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 closed regulation with a 10-2 run, capped by Johnson's 3 from the wing that momentarily deflated the home crowd.
The Colonials were trying to become the first team to win three straight NEC tournaments.