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It was the toughest season in years, but for the Long Island University Blackbirds, winning its third-straight Northeast Conference final came easy.
C.J. Garner scored a career-high 31 points and the No. 3-seeded Blackbirds cruised past No. 5 Mount St. Mary’s 91–70 at the Wellness Center on Tuesday night in the Northeastern Conference men’s basketball championship game. The win punched the ticket for an NCAA tournament berth for the Blackbirds.
“We really wanted to come back here and create history,” conference player of the year Jamal Olasewere said. “We had setbacks, but we are a family and we came together when we had to and we made history.”
Long Island University (20–13) overcame Julian Boyd, Troy Joseph, Olasewere and Garner being suspended for two games because of their involvement a September on-campus brawl. Then it lost Boyd in December to a season-ending knee injury and lost six of its next seven games.
“For all the adversity that we hit, for them to do what they did shows great character,” said first-year Blackbirds coach Jack Perri, “The leadership is unbelievable. Their substance as men was remarkable.”
It looked like their chance to three-peat was over before the Blackbirds had even played their first conference game, but the team went on to win the 14 of the next 17 games.
“We kept fighting through it.” Garner said.
Fight they did.
The title game started out close with Mount St. Mary’s (18–14) leading for most of the first half. But Olasewere got into foul trouble late in the first half that things turned around.
Mount St. Mary’s was shooting 6-for-10 behind the arc at that point, and LIU change from man-on-man to a 2–3 zone on defense and saw its opponent shoot 2-for-21 behind the arc for the rest of the game.
“We really extended it to take away those three-point shots,” Perri said. “Everything just kind of snowballed in the second half.”
Olasewere’s absence forced the 6-foot-7 Kenny Onyechi to step up and control the glass. He started a 13–0 run that spilled into the second half. It left the Blackbirds a 42–31 lead early in the frame the squad never relinquished.
Olasewere had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Jason Brickman had seven points and eight assists, and Gerrell Martin had 12 points and six rebounds for LIU. Next is the NCAA tournament where pundits won’t have high hopes for the Blackbirds, They have proven to be a hard team to count out.
“We’ll take whoever we get, prepare, and get after it and have confidence,” Perri said. “With these guys, after everything they’ve done this year, you have to have confidence because they’re gamers.”Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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