For the second year in a row the Northeast Conference Tournament championship will come down to a matchup between the Robert Morris Colonials and the Long Island Blackbirds when the two squads meet at the Athletic, Recreation & Wellness Center with both hoping to capture the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
A year ago Long Island downed Robert Morris in a thrilling overtime contest to punch its ticket to the Big Dance. During the regular season the Colonials got a bit of revenge winning the lone meeting by a 75-66 on their home floor. The Colonials now hold a 37-27 all-time advantage.
Robert Morris was the third seed coming into the tournament after a season in which the Colonials finished 24-9 overall with a solid 13-5 mark in league play. After dispatching sixth-seeded Monmouth in the opening round, Robert Morris made up for a regular season loss that cost it the two seed by knocking off second-seeded Wagner 71-64 in the semifinals. The Colonials have played in the last three Northeast Conference Tournament title games and won two before last season's loss.
Long Island meanwhile had an easy win against eight-seeded Sacred Heart in the opening round but struggled against an upset minded four-seed in Quinnipiac in the semifinals. The Blackbirds were able to edge out a 78-75 victory but certainly didn't look like the squad that rolled to a 24-8 record overall this season including a 16-2 mark in the conference which earned them the top-seed in the conference tournament.
Robert Morris' semifinal matchup against WAgner was decided largely at the free throw line. Both teams shot poorly with neither able to connect on more than 35.0 percent from the field. However the teams combined for 80 attempted free throws on 59 personal fouls. The Colonials put in 30-of-40 while Wagner managed slightly fewer at 27-of-40.
Regular season scoring leader was the lone player able to find success offensively in the win. Jones (16.6 ppg, 4.4 apg) poured in 25 points and turned in an incredible 14-of-16 performance from the charity stripe and a respectable 5-for-10 effort overall from the floor. The junior guard has shown an ability to explode offensively throughout this season putting in 20 or more points eight times this season including a 23 point output in the regular season meeting with LIU. Coron Williams (10.7 ppg) finished with 11 points and Russell Johnson (8.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg) had 12 points and eight rebounds as well in the semifinal victory. The Colonials didn't score at a high rate this season (68.3 ppg) but have managed to score 79.0 points per game in postseason play while holding opponents to 66.
LIU let a four-point halftime advantage slip through its fingers and trailed by eight early in the second half against Quinnipiac. The Blackbirds then ripped off an 18-5 run and held on for the win.
The Blackbirds have benefited all season from a squad that can rack up points in bunches. In the regular season LIU averaged 81.6 points per game, which topped the conference and was third best in the nation overall. The Blackbirds left a great deal to be desired surrendering 77.5 points per game which topped only seven teams in Division I. LIU has been paced all season by the steady and prolific scoring of Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere. Boyd (17.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg) was named the Northeast Player of the Year after finishing the year ranked fourth in the conference in scoring and in a tie with Quinnipiac's Ike Azotam for the top spot in rebounding. Boyd was yet against the key piece in the semifinals with game highs in points (21) and rebounds (9), while Olasewere (17.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) put in 13 points to go with seven rebounds. The league's leading passer Jason Brickman (9.5 ppg, 7.2 apg) also played well in the semifinals, scoring 18 points, while dishing out five assists.