Robert Morris (18-13) at Long Island (26-5)
Wednesday, March 9th, 7:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By John Agovino, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Wellness, Recreation & Athletic Center (2,500) -- Brooklyn, New York. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Robert Morris 11-2, Long Island 13-2. Away Record: Robert Morris 7-11, Long Island 13-3. Neutral Record: Robert Morris 0-0, Long Island 0-0. Conference Record: Robert Morris 12-6, Long Island 16-2. Series Record: Robert Morris leads, 36-26.
GAME NOTES: The two-time defending champs of the Northeast Conference are 40 minutes of work away from their third straight title, but the third-seeded Robert Morris Colonials must get past the top-seeded Long Island Blackbirds if they intend on continuing their dominance in the NEC.
Robert Morris' title defense began with a quarterfinal round victory over Wagner by a 78-74 margin. The Colonials then bounced second-seeded Quinnipiac in thrilling fashion, 64-62. The semifinal win was the eighth straight victory for Robert Morris, which is looking for a league record eighth NEC title.
Standing in the way of Robert Morris, are the Blackbirds, who are playing in their first league title game since the 1997-98 campaign. Long Island, which last reigned supreme in this league back in 1997, opened this event with a 90-75 decision over Saint Francis (PA). The Blackbirds followed with a thrilling, 69-67 decision over Central Connecticut State, which was the team's 12th consecutive victory. Long Island's 16 league wins and 26 overall victories are the most in the program's history since the 1936-37 campaign.
The Colonials currently own a 36-26 edge over Long Island in the all-time series and have won six of the last eight meetings. During this year the two teams split the season series with each team winning on the road. The Colonials were one of only two teams to win at Long Island.
Velton Jones' jumper with six seconds remaining in regulation vaulted the Colonials to their third straight NEC title game, as Jones' heroics led Robert Morris past Quinnipiac, 64-62, in semifinal-round action. Jones, who finished with 13 points and eight assists in the contest, has been one of the main contributors for the team throughout the season and heads into the main event boasting 11.9 ppg and a team-best 124 assists. Coron Williams led the Colonials with 15 points in the win, while Lijah Thompson and Russell Johnson contributed 14 points apiece. Without Karon Abraham (13.9 ppg) Johnson and Thompson have stepped up their effort when it has mattered most, as the two players are clearly on another level in the postseason after averaging just 8.4 and 6.9 ppg, respectively, during the season. As a whole, the Colonials posted a 48.1 percent shooting effort, but had to overcome an 8-of-17 clip from the foul line. The team's woes at the foul line have been a problem throughout the year, and eventually Robert Morris' 68.4 percent clip in that area could cost the team.
Maybe it was the pressure of such a crucial game, but the Blackbirds found themselves down 11 points early in the first half against Central Connecticut State. Once the team settled down and regained its composure, the Blackbirds proved why they were the top seed in the conference. Long Island closed out the opening half with a 28-13 run, and from there on the team fought tooth and nail to hold on to the victory and a trip to tonight's title game. Long Island shot a modest 43.1 percent from the floor, and committed 15 turnovers, two areas the team must improve on tonight. It was a far cry from the team's season average of 82.5 ppg, but was still good enough to land the Blackbirds in the NEC championship for the first time in over decade. Jamal Olasewere shook off six turnovers by posting a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds. Jason Brickman also contributed 16 points in the win, while Michael Culpo tallied 10 points. What made the win even more impressive was that team-leader Julian Boyd (13.1 ppg and 9.0 rpg) finished with just six points and six boards. Luckily Olasewere was there to pick up the slack and continue his successful year, which has seen the forward average 12.3 ppg and 6.7 rebounds per matchup.
Robert Morris has the experience winning the last two titles, and the team's eight-game winning streak certainly gives this squad the confidence needed to win. However, the Blackbirds are soaring behind a 12-game winning streak and their success throughout the season has proven time and time against that Long Island is the top team in the NEC this year. The Blackbirds will need to prove it one more time tonight.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Long Island 74, Robert Morris 71
03/09 10:33:50 ET