Thursday, March 8, 2012

Long Island University dominates Robert Morris to Earn Back-to-Back NEC Championships

Long Island University star forward Jamal Olasewere entered the press conference room, with an understandably wide grin, telling the members of the media to ask his point guard Jason Brickman a question. “You need to make him talk,” Olasewere joked.

The shy point guard may be a reserved person off the court (a la Ryan Peters circa 1994), but on the court, Brickman’s assertive, fantastic play was a major reason why his teammates were sitting at the press conference table tonight with the Northeast Conference trophy by their side.

Olasewere certainly agreed.  “He’s the captain behind this ship.  He’s a coach on the floor.  And he controls the game, night in and night out.  He does his thing on the court, and without him we couldn’t have done this. He’s a great point guard.”

NEC Player of the Year and NEC Tournament MVP Julian Boyd was even more complimentary.  “I definitely wouldn’t have gotten Player of the Year without him (Brickman).  The way he distributes the ball on the court and still scores, it’s amazing.”  At the end, Boyd jokingly added, “I love the guy, but just for now.”

There’s certainly plenty to love if you’re a Blackbird’s player or fan.  Brickman’s 11 assists last night were a NEC finals record and his 29 assists were a NEC Tournament record.  The sophomore All-NEC Second Team selection was consistently driving by the Joneses of Robert Morris, Lucky and Velton, to create plays both on the fast break and in the half-court set.

In the first minute of the game, All-NEC First Team Selection Velton Jones hit the deck hard, after scoring the first points of the game on a contested layup defended by Boyd.  Jones stayed on the floor for 5 minutes before getting up gingerly under his own power.  It was a sign of the rough night ahead for Robert Morris.

Early on however, the Colonials got off to a fast start, thanks mainly to Coron Williams and Mike McFaddan, but a Blackbirds 13-0 and 20-5 run midway through the first half, led by Brickman’s playmaking of course, gave them a lead they would never relinquish.

In the second half, despite some attempts by Robert Morris to chip away at the deficit, LIU kept making big time plays to keep the lead at double digits.  One play in particular, nearly brought down the Wellness Recreation Athletic Center.

On another fast break, CJ Garner decided it was a good idea to hoist a more than half-court pass near the rim toward a driving Julian Boyd.  The perfectly placed pass was received by Boyd in mid-air, who then emphatically slammed it home, sending the sellout crowd into a frenzy.  Immediately after the dunk, Boyd pointed toward the front row, directing his attention to the most famous celebrity at this game, Spike Lee.

It was a fitting way to end a spectular night, and season, for Boyd.  The NEC Regular Season and Tournament MVP finished the game with his patented double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds.  

So how did this dominant performance by LIU happen?  Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole explains. “We tried to play LIU basketball better than LIU.  We have to play the game in the 60s, that’s where we live.  We didn’t do a very good job in the start of the game, the game was played in their speed and style, and we weren’t very successful.”

The tempo, coupled with other factors, certainly led to the Colonial demise.  They were as follows:

1) The aforementioned inability of Robert Morris to contain Jason Brickman.  Brickman set the tempo early, with 6 points and 7 assists in the first half, despite having a defensive stud in Velton Jones guarding him much of the time. Brickman impressively finished with 18 points (8 for 8 at the free throw line), 11 assists, and 3 rebounds.

2) The inability of Robert Morris to hit open outside shots.  The Colonials had plenty of opportunities to get back into the game with the trifecta, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Robert Morris missed 21 of their 26 three-point attempts, led by a 0 for 6 three-point shooting performance by Jones.

3) LIU outscored Robert Morris at the free throw line, 31-14.  In the end, a bloated Robert Morris foul total was exasperated by an ill-fated comeback attempt, but make no mistake, 32 personal fouls against the NEC leader in free throw production, usually won’t lead to success.  The 32 fouls was a season high for Robert Morris.

In the end, the LIU students for a second straight year rushed the court, in celebration of another NEC Tournament Championship and a repeat appearance in the NCAA Tournament.  With any luck, the Blackbirds might be placed on the 15-line (c’mon tournament committee, have some love for the Blackbirds!), and draw a #2 seeded opponent like Michigan State, Duke or Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

For Robert Morris, an NIT bid is possible, but most likely not probable.  Instead, they may have to post $30K to play in the CIT or CBI, which should give Andy Toole’s players valuable experience heading into the 2012-2013 season.

And finally for this blogger, it was one remarkable experience for me, since I got to pretend that I was an important member of the media for a night.  Sure, my laptop was almost trampled when a LIU student jumped the press pass table to rush the court, but otherwise it was a night I would never forgot.  Hopefully, there are many more in my future.

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