BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- What sweet irony it would have been.
Nearly one year after Robert Morris blew an eight-point lead late in an overtime loss to Villanova in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Colonials crawled back from an eight-point deficit to push a postseason game into overtime.
But, in the end, that same crushing feeling crept in.
Russell Johnson missed a 3-point attempt with 0.8 seconds remaining in overtime as Long Island beat Robert Morris, 85-82, Wednesday night in the Northeast Conference championship game.
"Disbelief," sophomore guard Velton Jones said. "That's all I can say is disbelief."
Jones said the feeling is worse than after the Colonials' three-point loss to the Wildcats last season.
"This was our game," he said. "We came out and did what we wanted to do. We should have won this game. It's for the conference championship, we just came up short."
The NEC's best defensive team couldn't defend its two-year NEC title streak, failing to become the first NEC team to win three consecutive championships.
"We didn't do a good job for the full 40 minutes, and that had us playing catch-up as opposed of being in control of the game," Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said. "But I give a lot of credit to my team, fighting back and sending the game to overtime. ... Unfortunately, LIU was just a couple points better."
Long Island's 6-foot-5 senior forward, Jamal Olasewere, scored 31 points and proved a tough matchup for the Colonials. He overpowered Robert Morris defenders inside and displayed a solid shooting stroke from the perimeter.
"He was working," Jones said. "It was tough to defend him. He wouldn't stop. He was determined."
He was named NEC tournament MVP.
Johnson led Robert Morris with 22 points, and Jones added 20 points. Both were named to the all-tournament team.
Top-seeded Long Island (27-5) built a nine-point second-half advantage and led, 72-64, with less than two minutes remaining before No. 3 Robert Morris (18-14) mounted a furious comeback.
Jones scored four points in the final 1:54, and the Colonials forced two turnovers to give them a chance to tie the score late.
Johnson capped the comeback with a 3-pointer with 16.8 seconds remaining in regulation.
But his struggles from the free-throw line cost the Colonials dearly in overtime.
Johnson missed two of four free-throw attempts in overtime, allowing the Blackbirds to build a small lead.
Robert Morris had two chances to tie the score at the end of overtime. Trailing by three, Johnson fired a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining that hit the rim, bouncing off a Long Island player and out of bounds.
Robert Morris drew up a play with 0.8 seconds remaining -- running screens in front of freshman guard Anthony Myers, who was throwing the ball in bounds while Johnson snuck behind the defense to the far side of the court.
"I think they bit on the play," Toole said.
Johnson fielded the ball cleanly in the corner of the court, but Long Island senior David Hicks quickly closed in on him and stuck a hand in his face.
"That's what seniors do," Toole said. "They help their team make plays like that to win championships.
Johnson quickly rose and released the ball.
"It felt pretty good," Johnson said. "But a good look really don't mean nothing if it doesn't go in."
The ball clanked off the front of the rim, sending a horde of students storming on to the court and sealing Long Island's first NCAA tournament berth since 1997.
"It's all so surreal right now," Olasewere said.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1722 First Published March 10, 2011 5:00 AM