LIU junior forward Julian Boyd looked into the stands at the Wellness Center in Brooklyn and briefly lifted his arms to flex his muscles.
The Blackbirds had strong-armed Robert Morris on Wednesday night, beating the third-seeded Colonials 90-73 to earn their second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament and back-to-back NEC championship titles.
WHAT HAPPENED: Both teams established a physical game early. It had all the hustle, flying bodies, diving for loose balls and rowdy crowd that a championship game calls for. LIU and Robert Morris played about even until Jason Brickman dropped a perfect lob pass into Boyd's lap that started a 13-0 run and gave the Blackbirds a 28-19 lead with 5:02 left in the first half.
LIU carried a nine-point lead into halftime, 39-31. Robert Morris hung in the game but LIU stole all the momentum when first C.J. Garner found a diving Jamal Olasewere down the middle for a thundering, two-hand dunk. A couple plays later, Boyd scored back-to-back buckets -- first on a tough post layup then Garner found him for an alley-oop from half-court that gave LIU a 59-45 lead.
Robert Morris, playing in the conference final for the fourth straight time, cut the lead to nine with more than seven minutes left but couldn't get any closer.
BLACKBIRDS’ BIG THREE: Forwards Boyd and Olasewere and point guard Brickman paced LIU the way they have all season and put on a show for film director and Brooklyn native Spike Lee, who told the team pregame they had better win because he didn't want to be the unlucky one. The 6-7 Boyd, who was named the NEC Player of the Year, finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Olasewere struggled with foul trouble in the second half but finished with 12 points and 5 rebounds.
But the 5-10 Brickman controlled the game. The sophomore guard found Boyd in the paint and terrorized Robert Morris off the dribbled and in the pick-and-roll. He had 18 points and 11 assists.
"What didn't he do for them offensively?" Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole said. "That's really the question."
Garner, a junior guard, led all scorers with 21 points, going 10-for-10 from the free throw line.
TURNING POINT: The Blackbirds led by double-digits for most of the second half, but when Olaswere went down the lane for his two-hand dunk with 11:55 remaining, the tide noticeably shifted in the game. Garner baited Jones into an offensive foul on the following play and Boyd connected on back-to-back baskets about a minute later, ending with an ally-oop from Garner that took the air out of Robert Morris.
NOT THE THEIR HOUSE: The win is LIU's 27th straight home victory, the second-longest streak in the country behind Kentucky. The last time the Blackbirds lost at home was Dec. 2, 2010, against Robert Morris.
Wednesday night, however, the Blackbirds' defense was what suppressed the Colonials attempts at a comeback. Robert Morris shot 37 perfect from the field and struggled even more from the 3-point arc, missing 21 of 26 attempts. The Blackbirds also held Velton Jones, the Colonials' best player, to six points and four assists with four turnovers. Mike McFadden was held to 10 points.
UP NEXT: LIU earns an automatic bid on the NCAA tournament with the conference title win.