Robert Morris can't keep pace with LIU in NEC
Slow and steady was the pace Robert Morris wanted to play.
Instead, the Colonials were lured into Long Island University's up-tempo game - and they couldn't keep up with the fast-breaking Blackbirds.
Looking for its third NCAA tournament bid in four years, Robert Morris was run out of Brooklyn by top-seeded LIU, 90-73 in the Northeast Conference championship game Wednesday night.
''We tried to play LIU basketball against LIU - and they're better at it,'' RMU coach Andrew Toole said. ''We tried to run up and down. We took quick shots.''
In a rematch of last season's NEC title game thriller, the top-seeded Blackbirds (25-8) didn't need overtime to fend off the No. 3 seed Colonials (24-10) this year, and earned a second consecutive NCAA berth.
''We set a goal to try to accomplish something and become great team,'' said coach Jim Ferry, in his 10th season at LIU. ''To do it back-to-back ... is pretty special.
''Heck, Spike Lee even showed up.''
Lee, who grew up in Brooklyn, strolled into the WRAC about 30 minutes before tip-off wearing a Knicks baseball cap, an orange hooded sweatshirt and black vest. He took a seat in the front row behind the basket, right next to three young fans who spelled out LIU on their painted bare chests.
''He said we better win,'' Ferry said Lee told him before the game. ''He didn't want to be the jinx.''
C.J. Garner scored 21 points and Julian Boyd had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Blackbirds. Boyd took tournament MVP honors, but Toole said LIU point guard Jason Brickman, who had 18 points and an NEC championship game-record 11 assists, was the difference-maker.
''He constantly was able to beat our guards off the bounce,'' Toole said. ''He just wreaked havoc. He's an incredible decision-maker.''
Velton Jones, RMU's leading scorer, was knocked hard to the floor in the opening minutes and came away with sore ribs. He played most of the game and scored 10 points, though he shot 3 for 12.
''It was hurting a little bit during the game but I tried to fight through as much as I could,'' Jones said.
Freshman Lucky Jones scored 14 points and Coron Williams added 13 for Robert Morris, located in suburban Pittsburgh. The third-seeded Colonials handed LIU one of its two NEC losses during the regular season, but this time around they couldn't keep the Blackbirds' speedy backcourt of Brickman and Garner in check.
''We couldn't rebound and get defensive stops,'' Williams said.
The Blackbirds love to push the pace and at their best they are low-mid major showtime. They nearly blew the lid off the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center when Garner found Boyd on that long alley-oop. Boyd's dunk put LIU up 59-45 with 10 minutes left in the second half and had Lee handing out high-fives to the fans around him.
''Me and Julian, we have a connection on the alley-oops,'' Garner said. ''I knew to just throw it up there.''
Ferry said: ''We practice it every day. I don't think we ever threw one from that far.''
Garner's fadeaway in the lane put LIU up 74-60 with 4:03 to go and Robert Morris couldn't get it any close than 10 the rest of the way.
''It's just a disappointing feeling that we played the way we did,'' Velton Jones said.
LIU has won 27 straight games at the WRAC. The Fort Greene neighborhood is a long way from Lexington, Ky., but only No. 1 Kentucky has a longer home winning streak in Division I.
The Blackbirds, who average an NEC-best 81 points, controlled the pace over the last 8 minutes of the first half to build a 39-31 lead at the break. Though Ferry could tell even earlier that it was LIU's type of game.
''I sensed it probably in the first three minutes. Even though they had the lead we were playing our tempo,'' he said.
Brickman attacked the basket at every opportunity and got his teammates easy shots with seven assists in the first half. The Blackbirds shot 53 percent for the game.
Brickman found Brandon Thompson in the corner for a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in the first half that had the packed crowd hopping, including one very famous film director.
''It's definitely a great feeling to be able to repeat,'' Garner said.